AUSTIN – A New York law professor has filed a complaint over the Alamo Drafthouse’s planned “women-only” screenings of ‘Wonder Woman.’
"The problem isn't the theme - the problem is the exclusion of who can participate if they want," explained Stephen Clark, who lodged the complaint.
He first read about the screenings in his local paper, before he logged on to Alamo Drafthouse's Facebook page. Clark said the movie chain's responses to viewers who complained about the promotion led him to file his suit.
"It was determinative. That made the difference. Their response made the difference," Clark said.
He alleged those comments constituted retaliatory harassment, one of nine "statements of particulars" he listed on his formal charges.
"If a client of mine were posting things and making statements in public about somebody who was complaining about discrimination, I'd be pretty horrified," Clark explained.
An official with Austin's Equal Employment and Fair Housing Office confirmed prior to Clark's filing, there was another formal complaint lodged with the city over the women-only screenings.
"Screening a film for a particular group, based on one of these protected traits, race or sex or religion or disability or sexual orientation, what have you - is problematic and probably illegal," Clark explained.
Alamo Drafthouse announced their plans to staff the screenings with only women.
As for the filing, it is not a lawsuit, but a civil complaint sent to the city.
Both filings revolve around Austin's Code of Ordinances, Chapter 5-2-4, which states: "A person is entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of a public accommodation, without discrimination or segregation based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, or disability."
In Chapter 5-2-2, subset 8C, the code specifically lists a "movie theatre" as a public accommodation.
When asked how this situation differed from clubs that exclude individuals, Clark argued while he strongly disagreed with those respective groups, the law was typically on their side.
"The problem is that there is a private club exception generally in public accommodations law and civil rights law. So if you do form yourself as a private club, with membership dues, and requirements, and that sort of thing, and you're not generally open to the public, typically you are allowed to have these sorts of discriminatory policies," Clark said. He suggested people condemn those clubs as strongly as possible, hoping economic or social pressure could force change in those instances where the law was not an option.
A spokesperson for Alamo Drafthouse declined to comment on the complaints.
Shortly after the promotion was announced, they dismissed accusations of exclusion in an interview with KVUE's Jason Puckett.
"Our goal here was not to make anything exclusive, or leave people out, or alienate any group at all. The idea was actually completely the opposite. We wanted to take this platform, and this opportunity to celebrate a demographic that we're really proud of, and one we wanted to give an awesome, inclusive celebration of," said Morgan Hendrix, Alamo Drafthouse Creative Manager.
Both sold out women-only screenings are set to take place on Tuesday, June 6 at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz location.
The complaints are the latest twist in the story that's received national attention. On Thursday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler's response to a letter criticizing the city and women for the screenings went viral, even earning recognition from "Captain America" actor Chris Evans.
As of early Friday afternoon, ‘Wonder Woman’ holds a 93 percent rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The film has also been banned in Lebanon, but because of a decades-old law that boycotts Israeli products and prevents citizens from traveling to Israel or having contact with Israelis. The film’s star, Gal Gadot, was born in Israel and served two years in the Israeli Army.