Bears begin boycott of Cinemark
by Dan Aiello
The co-founders of a gay men's social group will begin a boycott today (Thursday, November 20) of a national movie chain because they learned its CEO donated nearly $10,000 in support of Proposition 8.
The group, Movie Bears, is made up of mostly hirsute men who gather together to watch movies at local theaters. Movie Bears started in San Francisco four years ago and has since grown to include chapters in other cities.
The boycott against theaters owned by Cinemark Holdings Inc., was announced in an e-mail to members after Movie Bears co-founders Dave Hayes and Drew Galleni learned that its CEO, Alan Stock, a Mormon, donated $9,999 to the campaign supporting Prop 8.
Cinemark is based in Plano, Texas.
The boycott marks one of the few times members of the bear community have become actively involved in a political issue, the men said.
"We decided to boycott the Cinemark Theatres based on the current leadership of the company, Alan W. Stock, CEO, and his recent political decision to support homophobia in California through his support of Proposition 8," said Galleni in an e-mail to the Bay Area Reporter .
Galleni and Hayes started Movie Bears in San Francisco in 2004, and said that affiliated clubs now operate in 10 U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., all of which have indicated they will participate in the boycott. The co-founders claim that last year the San Francisco club alone attended 23 movies, spending just over $10,000 purchasing 1,300 to 1,400 tickets, at Cinemark's Century Theatres on Mission Street. That amount does not include money spent by individual members on concessions.
In a telephone interview with the B.A.R. , James Meredith, Cinemark's vice president of marketing, indicated he was aware of the boycott.
"We've gotten a few calls. I think the main thing is that Cinemark did not make a contribution to either side. Beyond that I would say that Cinemark would be reluctant to discuss with our employees activities outside of the work environment, especially regarding political, social, and religious activities. Those are their personal issues."
Meredith later provided the B.A.R . with a written statement that, in part, emphasized Stock's donation was a "personal action," separate from his role as the company's chairman.
"It would be inappropriate to influence our employees' position on personal issues outside the work environment, especially on political, social, or religious activities. As an equal opportunity employer, we do not discriminate based on race, creed, religion or sexual preference. Any individual act or contribution is just that, individual acts of personal expression and do not reflect company positions or policy. Cinemark did not make any financial contribution to either side on the Proposition 8 vote in California nor does Cinemark have an opinion on this issue," the statement read.
Meredith was asked if Cinemark's contract with Stock had any provision where its CEO would have agreed to "do no harm" outside the work environment, covering personal actions that could damage Cinemark's image or revenue. Such provisions, commonly known as morals clauses, are standard in the termination clauses of athletes, actors, and executives when the personality or position of the employee becomes an integral part of the organization's image.
"That's a good question," said Meredith. "I don't know the answer to that."
But in a copy of the employment agreement between Cinemark and Stock obtained by the B.A.R., termination for cause does not appear to contain language that would support firing the company's CEO, providing only for termination in the case of "the executive's conviction of, or plea to, a felony" and "the intentional wrongful damage to property of the company or its affiliates."
Still, Hayes believes Stock's large and public donation has harmed Cinemark.
"I think that any top person in charge represents their company in whatever they do," said Hayes. "Anybody in that position needs to be responsible to their shareholders" who Hayes believes, "need to take action."
While boycotts often are not successful, Hayes believes they can affect change.
"We've seen it do good. Look at Manhunt," he said, noting that he believes an impromptu boycott that sprang up after it was learned the gay hook-up site's co-founder donated to Republican presidential candidate John McCain led to him being forced out as chairman.
"We're not going to patronize a company whose top person encourages hate," said Hayes, who says the boycott's goals are not specific. "I'd love to see an apology come from the CEO and a donation made to a marriage equality organization. That would certainly start the healing and move us in a positive direction, but when and what would end the boycott is up to the group."
To add to Cinemark's troubles, Kyle Buchanan on Defamer.com wrote about how the Sundance Film Festival, held in Utah, is already under threat of boycott because of its location – the Mormon Church is based there – and now is feeling added pressure because the theaters it uses are owned by Cinemark.
"Sundance (and the media, in particular) will face its first real and direct challenge ... as Cinemark owns the Holiday Village Cinemas, where many of the press screenings are during Sundance. In fact, it is the only real theater," wrote Buchanan.
Cinemark's Web site claims the company operates 289 theatres with 3,688 screens in 38 states. This includes the Tinseltown, CineArts and Century Theatres chains, which Meredith said was acquired by Cinemark "about two years ago." The site provides a complete list of Cinemark theaters at: http://www.cinemark.com/tspage.asp.
Meredith did not respond to a follow-up question by press time asking if Cinemark offers its employees domestic partner benefits.
Hayes called the Movie Bears' boycott "an unusual effort for the bear community," and wondered if this might be "an awakening of activism" for the bear community, which he believes is generally more low key about gay rights activism.
Members of the bear community have long been involved in charitable efforts, such as the popular Lazy Bear Weekend where thousands of dollars are raised for HIV/AIDS and other organizations.
Even before the boycott begins, Hayes claimed other groups are joining Movie Bears, including the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Hayes also pointed to the Web site started by Justin Green, http://www.nomilkforcinemark.com, as evidence of the momentum started by the Movie Bears' actions. According to the site, more than 1,000 people have signed onto the boycott. The Web site encourages patrons to see the new Milk movie, about slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, at a non-Cinemark theater when it opens later this month.
Galleni pointed out that the Movie Bears club had 80 pre-purchased Century tickets, which they used at a special screening of Quantum of Solace Wednesday night. After that, the group will begin patronizing the AMC theaters on Van Ness Avenue.
While the LGBT community may be angry with Stock, Cinemark's shareholders, to whom Stock answers, might not be. According to the November 10 issue of the Dallas Business Journal, Cinemark's third quarter profits exceeded expectations by 2 cents per share, with revenues up 1 percent from the previous quarter, hitting $476.2 million dollars. The company attributed the increased revenue to increased ticket prices and a 5.4 percent increase in concession sales.
Alternet, one of the blogs covering the boycott, stated Stock is a Utah-based Mormon who earned nearly $7.5 million last year, making his annual tithe to the church approximately $790,000.
The Cinemark boycott is one of several that some gays have organized since the passage of Prop 8. For more on the top donors to Yes on 8, visit http://www.californiansagainsthate.com; for more on taking action, visit http://www.stop8.org.