As it is embattled with a growing list of prominent organizations dropping out of events, the Beverly Hills Hotel on Monday faced the public spectacle of a protest across the street as entertainment figures and political leaders rallied against a harsh Islamic code imposed by the sultan of Brunei, who owns the fabled venue as well as other prominent tony hotels.
“What year is this? 1814? Come on people, it’s 2014,” said Jay Leno, before some four dozen protesters with banners directed at the Sultan, including one that read, “Seriously, dude?”
The harsher laws are being rolled out in phases, but many of the organizations present at the protest were particularly concerned with plans to implement laws that include the stoning to death those found to commit adultery or in same-sex relationships.
“Evil flourishes when good people do nothing, and that is pretty much what this is,” Leno said at the rally, adding that the issue should hardly be divisive but was a matter of “common sense.”
“This is not complicated. These are not crazy left-wing wacko people,” he said.
On Monday, the Motion Picture & Television Fund – one of the most popular gatherings of the year — announced that it was pulling out of the hotel for next year’s event. Organizers said that they “cannot condone or tolerate these harsh and repressive laws and as a result support a business owned by the sultan of Brunei or a Brunei sovereign fund associated with the government of Brunei.”
At the rally speakers that condemned the Sultan included Leno, wife Mavis, the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Kathy Spillar and Eleanor Smeal, labor activist Dolores Huerta and Lorri Jean of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. The event was held at Will Rogers Park, just across the street from the hotel, with speakers set up before a bank of a dozen news cameras and with the hotel’s iconic logo as a backdrop.
“Every person who takes freedom for granted is going to wake up one morning without them,” said Mavis Leno, who led a campaign in the 1990s to raise awareness about the plight of Afghan women during the Taliban regime.
Last week, the Feminist Majority Foundation dropped plans to stage an awards event at the hotel on Monday evening, and the Human Rights Campaign called for a number of organizations to pull their plans for the hotel this month.
Mavis Leno said that she has been spreading the word to friends about the sultan’s plans. She said that she called Barbara Davis to inform her, but Davis had already cancelled plans to hold a woman’s luncheon tied to her annual Carousel Ball charity event.
Leno said she learned of the sultan’s policies from director Rob Reiner, and she then immediately informed the Feminist Majority Foundation, knowing it had an upcoming event scheduled there.
The hotel stands to take a big economic hit from the exiting of groups, and perhaps individuals who frequented the Polo Lounge and other places that have long been part of industry lore.
The Beverly Hills City Council is to take up a resolution on Tuesday night calling on Brunei to divest its ownership in the hotel. Jean said that requests are being made for the Los Angeles City Council to take up a similar resolution.
The boycott has put the hotel and its parent company, the Dorchester Collection, in the spot of insisting that they stand for values of equality and inclusiveness, while not directly addressing the views of its owner. In fact, three executives from the hotel delivered water and pastries to the protesters, and delivered an official statement from the chain.
“While we recognize people’s concerns, we believe this boycott should not be directed to our hotels and dedicated employees,” the Dorchester Collection said in a statement. “The economic impact of this not only affects our loyal team members but extends to the local community, our valued partners and suppliers.”
The hotel chain also includes the Bel-Air Hotel, also the target of a boycott.
The protesters said that their action was just starting, and it would not be limited to Los Angeles. Richard Branson on Monday tweeted that he was pulling any of his Virgin company business from Dorchester Hotels.
Jay Leno and others at the rally said that their attention was on the sultan, not the hotel, but that the boycott was a way to exert economic pressure. “We have no beef with this hotel,” Spiller said. “We have a real beef with the sultan of Brunei.”
Leno, in fact, saw similarities to another recent civil-rights furor.
“Let’s put it in perspective,” Leno said. “The people in the Beverly Hills Hotel are the Clippers. The sultan is Sterling.”
Update: The hotel issued a statement responding to the departure of the Motion Picture and Television Fund.
“The Motion Picture and Television Fund has been such a valued partner of the Beverly Hills Hotel for the past 12 years, and we have greatly appreciated our long standing association with this beloved charitable institution. We have been proud to support their valiant efforts to sustain programs and services to benefit industry members in times of need, and we will continue to do so in any way we can.
“It is our sincere hope that we will have the opportunity to partner with the Motion Picture and Television Fund again and reestablish the strong collaboration that we have enjoyed for over a decade. Until then, we will continue to treasure and maintain our century-old ties to the Hollywood community, and remain committed to our core values of integrity, equality and diversity.”