Women-only showings of ‘Wonder Woman’ receive cheers — and a few gripes

2:27 p.m Wednesday, June 7, 2017 Local
Michael Manning, dressed as Wonder Woman, waits for her friends outside the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz before the two women-only showings of the movie on Tuesday. Deborah Cannon / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Women strode through the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz theater doors in Wonder Woman dresses, shirts, knee socks, headbands and arm bands Tuesday night. They posed for photos in front of a Rosie the Riveter-style “We Can Do It” poster. They waited excitedly to see their superhero.

Almost as if they weren’t the stars of a nationwide controversy.

The Drafthouse’s two female-only “Wonder Woman” screenings Tuesday evening sold out quickly. They drew widespread attention, both for the theater’s vow that all attendees and employees would be women (or identify as such) and for its snarky defense of the policy to detractors online.

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Austin City Hall, meanwhile, received at least half a dozen complaints that banning men from a movie screening — or even pledging to do so — violates city anti-discrimination ordinances.

“I had no idea it was going to be a big problem,” said Sarah Wood, an attendee who said she was drawn to the different energy of seeing a movie celebrating a strong woman in the company of other women all doing the same thing.

Seatings for both screenings went smoothly at the theater. The League of Women Voters handed out voter registration forms. Little girls jumped up and down. One woman asked for a comment card “because I think this is so awesome.”

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Two men attempted to buy tickets, but were told the screenings were sold out. One of them was Damian Biondo, a local lawyer and bisexual man, who said he’s experienced discrimination and had to see what was going on at the screening for himself.

“On the one hand, it’s not a big deal, but, on the other hand, it means a hell of a lot to a lot of people that they posted a sign on the internet: ‘No Guys Allowed,’” he said. “This consumed me for the last week, all the stuff it brought up about our public spaces and if we’re at a point where we can begin to start reintroducing segregated public spaces.”

Austin city code bans a public accommodation, which specifically includes movie theaters, from limiting its service or goods on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identification or other factors. It also bars such places from advertising or posting any published statement that indicates services will be limited to certain people.

City code doesn’t spell out a specific punishment for violating the provisions, but says the city’s staff may try to resolve equality issues via “informal methods” or refer the case to the city attorney for prosecution. The review process could take four to six months.

Biondo left the Drafthouse after an employee offered to sell him a ticket to a different screening. He said he intended to join those filing formal complaints with the city.

“I don’t want to see that (stuff) again in Austin,” he said. “I don’t want to see another sign that says ‘No Fill-in-the-Blanks Allowed.’”

Drafthouse representatives didn’t waver in their public support of their screenings, and added women-only showings of the movie in other cities.

Chloe Lee, 12, Sylvia Grimes, 12 and Sienna Fons, 9, decked out as Wonder Woman, said they were excited by the girl-power of the screening.

“It hurts my feelings that people are saying we don’t need our own movie, because boys get everything they desire,” said Lee.

Christa French said she thought the anger from some men was silly.

“If you’re going to apply your moralistic rules universally…then you should take up the cause of gender-segregated bathrooms,” she said.

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