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Wal-Mart Sells `Brokeback' Amid Conservative Protest

Christian group accuses the retailer of `pushing an agenda' by featuring the gay-themed film.

April 04, 2006|Claire Hoffman | Times Staff Writer

Wal-Mart to the producers of "Brokeback Mountain": We won't quit you.

Today, the largest retailer in the U.S. starts selling DVDs of the film about a gay love affair between two ranchers, despite protests from a national Christian organization.

The 3-million-member American Family Assn. initiated a campaign last week encouraging Wal-Mart customers to ask the company to refuse to stock the Universal film, whose director won an Academy Award last month, in its 3,900 stores.

The Tupelo, Miss.-based group began its campaign last week, after Wal-Mart placed ads with images of the film's stars, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, at the front of stores to promote the DVD release.

"It wasn't even a blockbuster movie, so if Wal-Mart isn't trying to push an agenda, why would they put it at the front door?" said Randy Sharp, director of special projects for the association, which calls itself an organization for "people who are tired of cursing the darkness and who are ready to light a bonfire."

Sharp said Wal-Mart was "trying to help normalize homosexuality in society. But how many copies are they going to have to sell to recruit the losses of customers who they've offended and will no longer shop at Wal-Mart?"

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company didn't advocate specific "lifestyles" and stocked films based on consumer demand. "Brokeback Mountain" has grossed $83 million in domestic ticket sales.

"The fact that we are offering the movie is not an endorsement of the content of the movie or any specific belief," said the spokeswoman, Jolanda Stewart. "We simply offer the latest titles that consumers want."

Still, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has a history of bowing to pressure from the American Family Assn. and other organizations on issues of decency.

After customer complaints in 2002, the store pulled a pregnant version of one of Barbie's friends, Midge, even though the doll wore a prominent wedding ring.

And in 2003, the family association led the charge to persuade Wal-Mart and other retailers to stop carrying magazines it considered crude. As a result, Wal-Mart discontinued FHM, Maxim and Stuff and placed plastic shields over Cosmopolitan, Glamour and others.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer is one of the nation's largest sellers of DVDs, with thousands of movie titles. Although Wal-Mart has long sold "amended" versions of popular recordings, it has not edited the films it sells. The company carries DVDs of R-rated movies, Stewart said, which are encoded to prompt cashiers to ask for identification. It does not sell films rated NC-17.

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