Alamo Drafthouse’s Women-Only ‘Wonder Woman’ Screenings Were Illegal

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Ian Miles Cheong Contributor
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Alamo Drafthouse’s women-only screenings of “Wonder Woman” that garnered massive attention and positive news coverage may have been against the law. Despite acknowledging complaints, the company has declined to issue a proper apology.

In June, theater chain Alamo Drafthouse announced it would be holding women-only screenings of “Wonder Woman” in select theaters. The media predictably cheered on the company’s feminist-centric marketing.

Stephen Miller, a writer for Heat Street, made the headlines and upset feminists on the Internet when he bought tickets to attend the movie at its women-only screening in New York City. Amid the outpouring of cheers, complaints, and “yas kween, slay!” support on social media, it turns out that Drafthouse was in violation of anti-discrimination laws in Austin, Texas — one of the cities where the theater held such a screening.

Complaints to the city were filed by Albany law professor Stephen Clark and an anonymous man, who took issue with Drafthouse’s marketing and attempts to pander to feminists. The chain first responded with snark to its detractors on Facebook, but it was forced to eventually admit the merits of the complaint.

The chain proposed a settlement offer on July 18 to Clark and the other individual.

“Respondent did not realize that advertising a ‘women’s only’ screening was a violation of discrimination laws,” wrote Alamo Drafthouse. “Respondent has a very strict non-discrimination policy in place, but this policy did NOT include a specific prohibition against advertising.”

Speaking for the company, Missy Reynolds, director of real estate and development called the “women’s only” marketing gimmick a “tongue in cheek moniker,” stating that they wouldn’t have denied men who purchased tickets. It’s worth noting that this fact was never made clear at the time of the marketing campaign.

“I’m a specialist in anti-discrimination law, so I was fairly certain this was not lawful,” said Clark in an interview with MyStatesman. Clark, who is openly gay, added: “If they were trying to do a gay-only ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ I would feel the same way.”

In a June interview with the Washington Post, Clark said that he wasn’t willing to let the instance slide due to his principles against sexual discrimination.

“It’s the principle of the thing,” he said. “I’m a gay man, and I’ve studied and taught gay rights for years. Our gay bars have long said that you do not exclude people because they’re gay or straight or transgender — you just can’t do that for any reason.”

Austin’s city code prohibits public accommodations, including theaters, from discriminating against people based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age and disabilities.

For now, Alamo Drafthouse is offering only an apology and a free DVD of “Wonder Woman” to both Stephen Clark and the other complainant. It’s up to them to decide whether to accept the settlement. For now, the company is refusing to publicly apologize for its advertising.

The attempt to settle with the complainants is part of the city’s allowed back-and-forth process. If no conclusion is reached, the city may investigate, and even prosecute Alamo Drafthouse.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.