- By Elizabeth Findell American-Statesman Staff
For one night: “No Guys Allowed.” That’s been the message of a local Alamo Drafthouse Cinema with plans to host two “Wonder Woman” screenings next week for only women or those who identify as such.
The feminist internet celebrated. The bro internet was furious. The theater gained attention for its smart-aleck responses to Facebook anger. Mayor Steve Adler drew calls to run for president for his witty public response to a man complaining about the promotion.
But is the Drafthouse plan legal? Grumblings over the screenings are beginning to turn into complaints that the theater might be violating the city’s equality laws.
Albany Law School professor Stephen Clark, a gay lawyer in Albany, N.Y., specializing in sexual orientation and employment law, said the women-only showings at Austin’s downtown Ritz theater, and the theater’s posts about it, rubbed him the wrong way.
“I’m a specialist in anti-discrimination law, so I was fairly certain that this was not lawful,” he said. “If they were trying to do a gay-only ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ I would feel the same way.”
Austin city code bans a public accommodation — which specifically includes a movie theater — 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.
The Washington Post first reported that Clark was filing a complaint with Austin’s Equal Employment and Fair Housing Office. He told the American-Statesman on Friday that he is drafting a formal written version.
Such complaints must be submitted via an equal employment form and notarized. As of Friday afternoon, the city had accepted one written complaint and six others had been submitted and were going through the receipt process, city spokeswoman Alexa Muraida said.
“The very act of advertising violated the Code,” says the complaint filed May 26. “I believe the discriminatory screening should not be allowed.”
Drafthouse spokespeople didn’t respond to messages Friday, but the theater’s creative manager, Morgan Hendrix, told the Post, “That providing an experience where women truly reign supreme has incurred the wrath of trolls only serves to deepen our belief that we’re doing something right.”
The theater’s statement that it would staff only women employees the night of the screening could also be problematic, Clark suggested.
City code doesn’t spell out a specific punishments 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.
It’s unusual for the city of Austin to deal with complaints of gender discrimination in public places, staffers said, but city attorneys are reviewing the situation. The process of investigating and responding to the complaints will likely take four to six months, with the Drafthouse’s response due next month.
This week, the Drafthouse announced it was adding women-only screenings of the films in theaters in New York and Denver. Jack Posobiec, a former grass-roots coordinator for President Donald Trump, filed a civil rights complaint Wednesday with New York City, he posted on a Medium blog.
Clark said he originally shrugged off the screening, figuring it was a one-time deal in a city far away from his corner of New York. But he was put off by the Drafthouse’s snarky Facebook posts: For instance, when one customer asked if the theater had ever hosted a men-only showing of a film, the theater responded, “we *did* show the Entourage movie a few years ago.” That tone, plus the indications that Drafthouse would add showings and cities to the women-only event, led Clark to move forward on the complaint to Austin authorities.
“Their attitude was really off-putting to me … the suggestion that anybody who pointed out to them that this was illegal was misogynistic or insecure,” he said. “Granted, a number of the men posting were nasty, but if you’re the one hosting the event and you’re already teetering on the edge of illegality, you might dial back the rhetoric.”
Hollywood’s Joss Whedon, “Avengers” director and creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” defended the Drafthouse on Twitter on Friday.
“I got to see Wonder Woman by myself weeks ago,” the director tweeted, “so shut up there’s already been a man-only screening.”