The theater chain Alamo Drafthouse is under fire for its all-female screenings of the blockbuster hit movie Wonder Woman. At those screenings, held in several cities the first week of the movie’s release, not only was the audience women-only, but also the theater staff. To be clear, only a few such screenings were held in each city. The vast majority of screenings were open to men. For example, in the chain’s Downtown Brooklyn location, there were over 70 screenings during the week and only three were women-only.
Complaints have been filed with the New York City Human Rights Commission and the Equal Employment and Fair Housing Office in Austin, Texas. The complaints allege that the women-only screenings discriminated against male customers and employees. The screenings may technically violate some municipal anti-discrimination ordinances. For example, Austin’s ordinance prohibits the exclusion of anyone from a movie theater based on their sex or gender identification. However, the ordinance does not specify a punishment for violations. It merely says the city’s staff may attempt to resolve such matters through “informal methods” or refer cases to the city attorney for prosecution. The city of Austin is currently investigating the complaints on file.
One complainant, Stephen Clark, is a professor at Albany Law School. In an interview with The Washington Post, he compared the situation to a gay bar that might want to ban women from entering but is prevented from doing so by anti-discrimination laws. The flaw in Clark’s analogy is that Alamo Drafthouse does not have a policy banning men from their theaters. Men were free to attend all but a few of the numerous screenings of Wonder Woman held during the week. Alamo Drafthouse commented, “This has zip to do with equality. This is a celebration of a character that’s meant a great deal to many women since 1940.”
It’s true that men’s rights activists in some states have won settlements against nightclubs that host “Ladies’ Night” events. But they’ve also lost plenty such cases, too. Some legal observers think it’s unlikely a judge would take the complaints against Alamo seriously.
The complaints of employment discrimination seem to have little merit. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a male employee would have a case against the theater only if he could show a “material action” such as losing his job or suffering a loss of pay. Stacy Hawkins, a law professor at Rutgers University, explained to the Post, “As long as male employees are assigned to other screenings in the theater, they aren’t losing their jobs, hours or pay.”