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Prop. 8 rifts put industry on edge

Hollywood is at odds over whether to shun supporters of the ban.

November 23, 2008|Rachel Abramowitz and Tina Daunt | Abramowitz and Daunt are Times staff writers.

What began as a kind of cyber-venting is mushrooming into a new kind of viral protest movement, including the latest protest of Proposition 8 in Hollywood on Saturday, which was largely publicized via Facebook.

And there remains a distinct contingent of same-sex marriage supporters who are adamant about retribution. One is Chad Griffin, a political advisor to Hollywood executives who says, "A dollar to the yes campaign is a dollar in support of bigotry, homophobia and discrimination. There are going to be consequences. Any individual who has held homophobic views and who has gone public by writing a check, you can expect to be publicly judged. Many can expect to pay a price for a long time to come."

Still, film companies are typically wary of involving themselves in causes, particularly those that advocate boycotts, because they know how vulnerable their products are to similar initiatives by well-organized groups on the religious right. For eight years, the Southern Baptist Convention boycotted the Walt Disney Co. for extending employee benefits to same-sex partners and urged its members not to patronize the theme parks and Disney products. Films with religious subjects -- most notably "The Last Temptation of Christ" -- have also sparked protests.

Bruce Cohen, one of the producers of "Milk" -- which lands in theaters next week and traces the life and death of California's first openly gay elected official (San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk) -- and a leader of the No on 8 campaign in Hollywood, suggests that everyone should proceed with caution.

"You need to draw a very specific distinction between the cases where it's the actual owner of the company who put money into a cause. If it's an employee, it's a different discussion. That becomes a freedom of speech issue," he says. "People should personally always have the right to express their own opinions even if that means getting out their checkbook."

And in fact, Focus Features, which is distributing "Milk," still intends to play the film in Cinemark theaters despite calls for a boycott.

In particular, the notion of boycotting Sundance, which seems to have originated with the liberal Americablog, has picked up little traction thus far within the Hollywood community.

"I don't feel the Sundance Film Festival deserves our ire or our censor," says Howard Cohen. "It's an incredible force for good. I know where they are on the issues, and there's no evidence they supported Yes on 8."

"If there is one festival that has supported queer cinema from the start, it's Sundance," says Marcus Hu, president of Strand Releasing, which has released many gay-themed films. "Sundance has been, first and foremost, people who have been discovering and fostering young gay talent."

In part, Hollywood's distress is a reflection of its guilty conscience about Proposition 8's passage. Many feel that they were asleep at the wheel, preoccupied with Barack Obama's candidacy and winning larger congressional majorities for the Democrats. "Many straight people really don't understand it's a civil rights issue," says Vachon. "We didn't do our job well enough. We need to do it better."

"What the passage of Prop. 8 did is stir the soul of the people in the gay community," says publicist-activist Howard Bragman. "It took what had been a top-down movement and made it a grass-roots movement."


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