By Lauren Brande
As millions flock to the theaters, one theater chain may find its sales down this holiday season.
Gus Van Sant’s new film “Milk,” which hit theaters on Nov. 26, is the first fictionalized rendition of the life of Harvey Milk, who became the first openly homosexual man to hold public office in California when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.
The movie delves into the personal aspects of Milk’s life as well as the public campaign, covering issues surrounding Proposition 6 in 1977, which would have prohibited homosexuals from teaching in California’s public schools.
Cinemark, the fourth-largest movie theater chain in North America, is screening the film “Milk” in some of its 65 theaters across 43 states. However, protesters in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities are hoping that moviegoers will steer clear of the film showings because Alan Stock, the company’s CEO and a member of the Mormon Church, donated $9,999 to the California Yes on 8 campaign.
Although there are no locations in Santa Cruz, Cinemark theaters can be found in San Jose and other nearby cities. The company, based in Dallas, owns various other theater companies including Century Theaters and Tinseltown.
Justin Green, founder of the No Milk for Cinemark campaign, wrote a letter to the Cinemark board of investors stating, “I would just like to point out that the CEO of a corporation is a unique position that represents your company 24/7. … Alan Stock’s opinion of what my rights in California should be, from his high horse in Texas, is inappropriate for your corporation and highly offensive.”
The boycott aims to spur Cinemark into apologetic action, hoping for any number of responses. The website, NoMilkForCinemark.com, presented a “peace treaty” between the two sides, suggesting that the company and/or Stock issue a public apology, donate to a pro-gay organization, or resign Stock from his position.
Green has started a Facebook group dedicated to the boycott, ultimately aiming for 50,000 members. The group is currently at about 24,000 members who have pledged to not watch the film at Cinemark Theaters, potentially costing the company $240,000 in lost revenue.
A similar campaign was staged earlier in November, boycotting the California Musical Theatre for the donation to Yes on 8 by Scott Eckern, the chief operating officer and artistic director of the company. This resulted in Eckern’s resignation, a public apology, and funds given to Human Rights Campaign, which works toward equal rights for the LGBT communities.
Ian Sentelik, an academic intern at UC Santa Cruz’s Lionel Cantú Queer Center, pointed out some flaws that he believes will reduce the effectiveness of the boycott.
“They can’t aim it solely at queer audiences,” Sentelik said. “To have one small group not see one small movie doesn’t sound like enough to make the change that they want to happen. They would have to say ‘Don’t go to these theaters, period.’”
The lack of stringent goals has left the movement blurred for people like Sentelik. For others, however, the flaws lie less in the boycott, and more in the company itself. Aaron White, editor-in-chief of The Big Q, UCSC’s quarterly queer literary magazine, described his view of the problem.
“[Alan Stock] gave to Yes on 8 in order to appease one side, but then [Cinemark] is showing ‘Milk’ to appease the other side,” White said. “If [Stock] truly wanted to be equal, he should have given to both sides or not given at all. They made a bad decision followed by another bad decision.”
Stock’s decision to openly fund Yes on 8 left the issue of boycotting a public company for the private decisions of its employees up for debate, but Sentelik suggested that the conflict be considered from the economic stance of the theater.
“It shouldn’t make a difference who it is that [Cinemark is] marketing to or what is going on,” Sentelik said. “It should just be about money.
Which sounds horrible, but it’s a corporation.
That’s its job.”