AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas theater's plan to host two women-only "Wonder Woman" screenings next week has drawn nationwide attention from those praising its female empowerment message, responding to the theater's smart-aleck responses to people who complained about it and celebrating Austin Mayor Steve Adler for his witty public response to a man who objected to it.
But grumblings over the screenings are beginning to turn into complaints that the theater may be violating the city’s equality laws.
Albany law professor Stephen Clark, a gay lawyer specializing in sexual orientation and employment law, said the women-only showings at the downtown Austin Ritz theater, and the theater’s posts about it, rubbed him the wrong way.
“I’m a specialist in anti-discrimination law, so I was fairly certain that this was not lawful,” he said. “If they were trying to do a gay-only ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ I would feel the same way.”
The Washington Post first reported Thursday that Clark filed a complaint with Austin's Equal Employment and Fair Housing Office. He told the American-Statesman on Friday that he had first sent the city a complaint online and is now drafting a formal written complaint. The Statesman has requested from the city all other equal employment complaints filed regarding the screening.
Austin city code bans a public accommodation — which specifically includes a movie theater — from limiting its service or goods on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identification or other factors. It also bars such places from advertising or posting any published statement that indicates services will be limited to certain people.
City code doesn’t spell out a specific punishments for violating the provisions, but says city staff may try to resolve equality issues via “informal methods” or refer the case to the city attorney for prosecution.
The theater’s statement that it would staff only women employees the night of the screening could also be problematic, Clark suggested.
Clark said he originally shrugged off the screening, figuring it was a one-time deal in a city far away from his corner of New York. But he said the Drafthouse’s snarky Facebook posts and suggestion that it would add showings and cities to the event led him to move forward on the complaint.
“Their attitude was really off-putting to me…the suggestion that anybody who pointed out to them that this was illegal was misogynistic or insecure,” he said. “Granted, a number of the men posting were nasty, but if you’re the one hosting the event and you’re already teetering on the edge of illegality, you might dial back the rhetoric.”
Cox Media Group