With activists against Proposition 8 — California’s ban on same-sex marriage — turning to threats of boycotts, attention is focusing on a surprising target: The Sundance Film Festival.
The festival has been fielding calls and emails from activists calling for Sundance to pull its films from a Park City fourplex operated by Cinemark Theaters, whose CEO, Alan Stock, contributed $9,999 to the Yes on Prop. 8 campaign.
Sundance still plans on using those screens and issued a statement Monday saying, “As a nonprofit organization devoted to supporting artists, we very much appreciate and are sensitive to the larger issue at hand and respect the rights of individuals to express themselves. It is our hope that people will embrace the festival for its commitment to diversity, not avoid it.”
Cinemark is among the most prominent companies that have come under fire for their connection to the Yes on 8 campaign, with threats of boycotts being fueled via viral campaigns. No organized effort has yet materialized, but the threat of a boycott has inspired concern among some firms given that activists have proved especially adept at organizing, via the Internet, large-scale demonstrations across the country.
Fred Karger, who operates the website Californians Against Hate, said his group has been combing through California secretary of state records for what it calls a “Dishonor Roll” of businesses and individuals who gave substantially to the campaign. They plan to launch a boycott this weekend of A1 Self-Storage because its owner, Terry Caster, and his family members gave more than $600,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign, Karger said.
Last week, hundreds of protesters picketed El Coyote restaurant in Los Angeles because one of its managers donated $100 to the Yes on 8 campaign.
Composer Marc Shaiman (“Hairspray”) sparked an Internet protest against Scott Eckern of the Sacramento Musical Theater, who donated $1,000 to Yes on Prop. 8. The artistic director resigned within 24 hours.
The Los Angeles Film Festival issued a statement Friday distancing itself from the political activity of its director, Rich Raddon, who also contributed to the Yes on 8 campaign, after it fielded calls and emails calling on him to be fired.
Fest organizers refused, but Film Independent, which oversees the event, said in a statement, “As a champion of diversity, Film Independent is dedicated to supporting the civil rights of all individuals. At the same time, our organization does not police the personal, religious or political choices of any employee, member or filmmaker.”
Other activists have called on a boycott of Sundance altogether, merely because of its ties to Utah, where the Mormon Church is headquartered. Church leaders and members were involved in the campaign to ban gay marriage.
“I think it’s also time for the Sundance Film Festival to leave Utah. And for any gay and gay-friendly producers to pull their films,” wrote John Aravosis, editor of Americablog.
More fuel was added to that effort Monday when the Associated Press reported that Sundance had asked for funding help from the governor’s office. But Sundance executive Sarah West denied that organizers asked for more money and insisted that the meeting had been on the books for weeks.
Chad Griffin, a consultant to the No on 8 campaign, said it would “not be warranted or justified” to go after the Sundance Film Festival, citing its support of gay and lesbian filmmakers and independent film in general.
He is not organizing a boycott, but he said that Cinemark Theaters could be targeted specifically, including the four-screen Holiday Village venue used by the festival.
Cinemark issued a press statement saying that “any individual act or contribution is just that, individual acts of personal expression and do not reflect company positions or policy.”
Until Brad Pitt donated $100,000 to No. on Prop. 8 in September, many in the Hollywood community had been largely silent on the subject. Then there were reports of big-cash donations from Steven Spielberg (another $100,000) and Ellen DeGeneres, who, in the wake of her marriage to Portia de Rossi, taped a TV commercial opposing the proposition. And on the eve of election day, Ellen Page gave a pep talk to leafleteers ready to protest Prop. 8 at the polls.
“I’m sorry that I can’t vote with you. Where I’m from, marriage is legal for everyone,” the Canadian “Juno” actress told the Equality California volunteers gathered at the Gay & Lesbian Center in Hollywood.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who supported No on 8 but would not tape a TV ad, made a quick denunciation of the election-day vote, telling CNN, “I think this will go back into the courts … it’s the same as in the 1949 case when blacks and whites were not allowed to marry. This falls into the same category.”
George Clooney opined to E!: “At some point in our lifetime, gay marriage won’t be an issue, and everyone who stood against this civil right will look as outdated as George Wallace standing on the school steps keeping James Hood from entering the U. of Alabama because he was black.”
And there were strong denunciations from Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann on their respective TV shows.
Drew Barrymore joined the demonstrators at a Nov. 8 Silver Lake march of 10,000 protesters, and Whoopi Goldberg participated Wednesday at a Gotham rally of 5,000 protesters who met in front of a Mormon temple at the intersection of Columbus and Broadway.
As Goldberg put it, “If you don’t believe in gay marriage, then don’t marry a gay person.” She then took the cause to “The View,” where she battled it out on air with Prop. 8 sympathizer Elisabeth Hasselbeck, leaving it to Barbara Walters to mediate.
Thursday evening, Focus Features preemed the Gus Van Sant-directed “Milk” at the AMPAS Theater in Beverly Hills, where the consensus seemed to be that the film, based on the life of gay activist Harvey Milk, preached to the choir but would galvanize the entertainment community to repeal Prop. 8.
On Saturday, the effort to repeal Prop. 8 took to the streets again, this time with a nationwide protest on the steps of city halls across the country. In downtown L.A., the crowd listened to many activists as well as a few entertainers, including Lucy Lawless, Marissa Jaret Winokur and Ricki Lake. In Las Vegas, comedian Wanda Sykes spoke out and talked about marrying her wife on Oct. 25.