- Elizabeth Findell American-Statesman Staff
After a national controversy, cheers from star-spangled Wonder Woman fans, outrage from internet bros and a smackdown by Mayor Steve Adler of a critic, Austin is closing the book on formal discrimination complaints filed against the Alamo Drafthouse for its women-only screenings of “Wonder Woman” last summer.
After all the hubbub, the Drafthouse will update its anti-discrimination policies. The offended men will get to share their thoughts with theater employees, and at least one complainant will take a free DVD of the hit film in exchange for keeping quiet in the future.
The theater chain drew both praise and rage in May, when it announced it would host two “Wonder Woman” screenings where no men were allowed at its downtown Ritz location. The theater gained nationwide attention for its smart-aleck responses to critics on Facebook and — spurred on by the controversy — it added women-only showings of the film in other cities.
The city of Austin received two complaints from men who argued that the screenings violated city equality laws that prohibit a public accommodation, such as a movie theater, from limiting its service on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identification or other factors. The laws also bar such places from advertising services limited to certain groups.
Austin resident Mingfey Fan filed his complaint against the theater in May, writing “the very act of advertising violated the Code … the discriminatory screening should not be allowed.” Last month, he signed a request to withdraw his complaint from the city’s Equal Employment/Fair Housing Office after the city helped mediate an agreement with the Alamo Drafthouse.
He asked a city employee to mail him the “Wonder Woman” DVD.
The Drafthouse agreed to update its discrimination policies, social media policies and training materials to make sure that future advertisements do not discriminate. Fan will have a chance to write a letter to company employees describing his point of view.
Fan could not be reached for comment, and his agreement with the Drafthouse bans him from publicly speaking about it. The Drafthouse has not commented on the controversy.
A second complaint, from Albany Law School professor Stephen Clark, is still pending because Clark refused to sign away his right to speak about the screenings.
“I’m not putting on a gag for them,” Clark wrote to Equal Employment/Fair Housing administrator Gail McCant in September, adding in another email, “Having been publicly branded a misogynist by Drafthouse’s spokeswoman, I’m not willing to encumber my prerogative to defend myself from whatever further criticism I may receive.”
He added that he didn’t want the DVD.
Fans of the Drafthouse praised it for its celebratory girl-power screenings, which the theater described as in line with other themed movie events it routinely hosts. But critics such as Clark, who specializes in sexual orientation and employment law, said it felt like a chilling first step away from the expected inclusion of all genders and races in public areas.
Clark said Wednesday that he expected his complaint to be settled shortly, so long as the theater didn’t try to bind him with confidentiality, because all he wanted was to see Drafthouse training policies changed.
“They’re going to do that anyway, because they know what the law is now,” he said.