Last night, following a screening of Focus Features’ upcoming "Milk," the story of gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen and executive producer Michael London sat down for a Q&A at the Arclight.
Obviously, it was impossible not to talk about this movie without also delving into Prop 8, the recently passed California ban on gay marriage that has inspired protests around the country. Some of those protests have been at Cinemark Theatres, including those that plan to screen "Milk" when it starts its release on Wednesday. Alan Stock, the CEO of Cinemark, gave $9,999 to the Yes on 8 campaign, while the chain itself argues that it should not be held responsible for the political activity of one of its employees.
This has stirred some debate in the entertainment community: Where does a boycott end and free speech begin?
In the LA Weekly, Patrick Range McDonald takes some of the industry’s gay professionals to task, calling them "apologists for straight, entertainment industry honchos who donated to the "Yes on 8" campaign." He sees a rift among generational lines, with younger industry gays more likely to back more forceful actions, like the pickets that went up a few weeks ago in front of El Coyote restaurant because its manager donated to the Yes on 8 campaign.
One aspect of "Milk" deals with the Milk-led effort to boycott Coors beer in the early 1970s. So I asked whether the current efforts at boycotts were justified.
Black said at the Q&A, "I think that we have to be really careful and make sure it is targeted. Boycotts have been successful. What I have had trouble seeing is some of the language. You know — I grew up Mormon, I have a lot of problems with the Mormon church, trust me. But seeing some of the folks who are so angry and talk about taking down the church and wiping off the face of the planet, I don’t think that is necessarily helpful. We could put all this energy in wiping out the Mormon church and still not have equal rights. That I get wary about. And I think we need to be really careful when we look at who the donors are and be a bit more targeted when you are talking about things like Cinemark. When you are talking about Cinemark, I actually know some people who are high up there and are gay and lesbian and who are hiorrified with what happened. So it is figuring out how to target specific organizations and groups and invidiuals in a way that is peaceful, legal and effective, like Harvey did with the Coors beer boycott."
Executive producer Michael London added, "I think that touches on the main issue, that this is an individual at Cinemark and this was not an action on behalf of the corporation. You don’t want to be squelching free speech. As much as we loathe the message that that individual put out there, he is entitled to have whatever opinions he wants. And in a larger corporate sense, Cinemark has actually been a supporter of independent cinema. ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was a movie that played in any number of Cinemark theaters. At the same time, it is an individual in a position of power at that company, so we have not wanted to censor people who are taking issue with him, but we also haven’t wanted to insist that the chain shouldn’t be showing the movie."