In a letter to the major studio chiefs, along with MPAA chairman Chris Dodd, HRC President Chad Griffin is also calling for the studios to meet with representatives of the Russian government to advocate for the repeal of the laws.
“Hollywood has always been a dauntless supporter of LGBT equality — well before public support was easy or politically popular,” Griffin wrote. “Now that progress is speeding up here at home, I know you’ll agree that we have a moral responsibility not to ignore backsliding abroad.”
A spokeswoman for the MPAA did not immediately return a request for comment.
Griffin calls on the studios “to take advantage of all currently scheduled film premieres in Russia to make clear and visible statements of support for Russia’s beleaguered LGBT community and of opposition to the Russian government’s campaign of institutionalized hate.”
He also said that studio representatives should “meet with representatives of the Russian government and advocate for the repeal of these laws — and the chilling effect that these laws could have on future film production, shooting, publicity, distribution within the Russian federation.”
The Russian law, signed by President Vladimir Putin in late June, imposes fines for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors, and Putin several days later signed a law restricting adoption by gay parents. Activists such as Harvey Fierstein have said that it puts anyone who is gay and out at risk, including visitors to the country. Griffin, in his letter to the studios, pointed to Dutch tourists who were arrested last month for filming a documentary about the country’s LGBT population.
Last week, Griffin called on Comcast and NBC Universal to call for repeal of the laws, given their investment in broadcasting the Winter Games, although HRC stopped short of calling for a boycott. An HRC spokesman said that Craig Robinson, NBCU’s chief diversity officer, has requested a meeting.
The International Olympic Committee last week said that they had “received assurances from the highest levels of the Russian government” that the laws would not impact those competing in or attending the Olympics, but their statement has done little to temper calls for action against the country or boycotts. In fact, it conflicts with other statements made by government officials. According to the Associated Press, Russia’s sports minister said that LGBT athletes will be “held accountable” if they “go out into the streets” and start to “propagandize.”
Griffin’s letter to the studios came on the same day that White House officials expressed dismay at Russia’s decision to allow Edward Snowden asylum for a year. Snowden leaked details of U.S. surveillance programs, provoking debate over whether his actions were that of a whistleblower or a traitor. In the wake of Russia’s actions, President Obama has not said whether he will cancel a planned trip to Moscow in September.
Russia the world’s fifth largest movie market, generating $1.4 billion at the box office, but it is especially lucrative to studios because of its rapid growth and because Hollywood pictures dominate. In fact, in 2012, not single Russian movie made it in to the top 10 movies in the country, in a list that was led by Fox’s “Ice Age 4: Continental Drift.” More recently, Fox’s “The Wolverine,” which opened there on July 25, grossed $14.2 million. In the coming month, Warner Bros. is set to premiere the comedy “We’re the Millers,” Fox is scheduled to debut “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” and Universal will open “Despicable Me 2.”
The HRC is looking at the visibility of such events, particularly if actors speak up. A question is whether they, too, would fall under the anti-gay propaganda law by doing so.
“Studios and actors have an amazing opportunity to bring attention to what’s going on in Russia, and that’s especially true if they have a captive Russian audience,” Fred Sainz, a spokesman for HRC, said in an e-mail. “There are many ways the studios could achieve the same end. Press releases can be issued from the United States from both the studios and the actors as an example.”
Russia is also lucrative for live touring, and such artists as Selena Gomez, Alice Cooper and Deep Purple have dates lined up, along with Elton John and Jason Mraz, two performers who have been noted activists for LGBT rights.
Rachel Abrams contributed to this report.