The “Milk” Team and the Cinemark Boycott

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.”

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  1. You may remenber the three proverbs:
    When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
    When everybody‘s somebody then nobody‘s anybody.
    When the fox preaches, take care of your geese.

  2. Russ says:

    I think many women feel as strongly about the choice issue as we feel about the marriage issue. I still don’t understand why we’re punishing a company for the actions of an employee. And, again, why is Cinemark being targeted for their CEO’s contribution and Austin’s Apple Computers not for the company’s contribution of 10 times the amount for the same thing.
    What results do we want from this boycott? Do we want Stock fired – if so, again, what happens if someone decides to fire someone for taking a stand/contributing to pro-gay marriage initiatives? The guy can’t uncontribute the money. The vote is done and all that’s left is to fight it in court, where it matters, rather than the court of public opinion. I don’t think boycotting theaters is going to change anyone’s mind or vote on Prop. 8 and I think there are more productive uses for our time and effort.

  3. Paul says:

    Russ, I think you are confusing the fight. We are not fighting for people’s rights to support causes. We are fighting for our equal rights and against people who used a popular vote proposition process to discriminate against a class of people. This is not voting to fund bonds for schools, or to rename a water treatment plant. This was a direct attack on the equality of a minority group.
    I agree that some of us want to take far more aggressive action. We are tired of being marginalized. An economic boycott is a preferable action at this point. There are consequences for what these people have done. And if it escalates, we’re prepared to go the distance. We demand our equality and we’re not playing nice gays anymore.

  4. Rob C says:

    Since this report speaks directly about the movie “MILK” and its relevance to today’s issues, it seems worth remembering MIlk’s own feelings with Proposition 6. He felt that, if Prop. 6 was passed, that the gay community would rise up in an angry offense that wouldn’t have been entirely inappropriate. The chants in the movie portrayed the chants of those day: Civil Rights or Civil War. Gay Rights Now!
    We are not in the midst of a polite debate. We are not haggling over a trinket in a foreign bazaar. Prop 8 singles out gays. It strips them of rights. It undermines the very fundations of the Constitution of the country – which has not relationship to biblical belief or religious fantasies. If gays are going to be singled out by the passing of this proposition, then the supporters of it should be targeted. If they are in positions of power, such as CEO of Cinemark, then the foundation of their power ought to be attacked and brought down.
    Cinemark is fair game as is the Mormon Church. We are not engaged in a friendly disagreement. These people have mobilized to strip Americans they don’t like or respect of their civil rights. That’s not politics. That is war. Gays have learned how to fight back and we ought to throw our full fury at individuals and tyheir power bases – period.

  5. Russ says:

    Yeah, and if you give money to a gay cause and a customer or potential customer decides that they don’t like it, should the business you work for be boycotted? Should you be fired?
    We want our rights to support causes protected. We can’t start persecuting others for theirs, especially in this instance when an amployee not a company gave to the cause. Are we boycotting Apple? Austin, TX Apple Computers, the company, not an indivual donated $100,000 to stop Prop. 8. Why is Cinemark being targeted?
    And to boycott Twilight cause Stephnie Meyers is a Mormon would be like the pro-choice groups calling a boycott of anything by a Catholic writer since the Catholic church is anti-abortion.

  6. Paul says:

    No one is preventing Alan’s free speech. We are celebrating his right to free speech by speaking back.
    This action is very targeted. Targeted at those who funded a direct attack on our equality. Be it a CEO of a corporation, a manager/owner of a restaurant, or an organized religion.
    We cannot stamp out bigotry and prejudice, but we can make sure people understand the consequences of their actions. And I think at least some of them are.
    Oh, and for those gay and lesbian executives who work work for Alan, they should resign in protest.

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