After a controversy over its screening of paid ads in support of same-sex marriage, Famous Players has decided to stay away from “issue-driven advertising.” Now it faces boycott threats from both sides.
“We’ve learned that movie theatres shouldn’t be a place where people are voicing opinions on policy,” says Nuria Bronfman, the vice president of corporate affairs at Famous Players. “We don’t want to make our screens a battlefield.”
Bronfman says Famous Players has been getting complaints from queer activists since the theatre chain admitted it won’t run any more pre-film ads from the advocacy group Canadians For Equal Marriage – or any other issue-driven advertising. She defends the company’s change of policy, noting that Famous Players let the ads finish their full run despite the fact that employees were receiving death threats and abusive calls from people opposed to same-sex marriage.
The 10-second ads were purchased by philanthropist Salah Bachir, the president of Famous Players Media, which is a separate company from the theatre chain.
Bronfman denied that the decision was connected to a boycott of the chain organized by various Christian groups that included the Alberta-based Canadian Family Action Coalition.
Since Famous Players’ ban on all issue-driven ads, the coalition has not called off its boycott.
“We suspect that [the new policy] was put in place to prevent anyone from running a pro traditional marriage ad that would provide the fair and balanced side of real marriage. It would appear they have an antimarriage bias,” states its website Familyaction.org. “So we suggest you spend your entertainment dollars in more family friendly places.”
Kim Smith is also incensed by the company’s new policy – because she wants it to continue spreading the equal marriage message. The 33-year-old Toronto woman is planning a protest for Sun, Mar 6 at 2pm at the chain’s theatre at Yonge and Eglinton (2300 Yonge St) where she’ll be asking people to boycott Famous Players. At the moment, she’s recruiting people to hand out flyers.
This is Smith’s first major foray into activism. “I became so angry,” she says. “I felt I had to voice my opinion.
“Of course, there’s a safety issue [at Famous Players] because of the death threats,” says Smith. But that doesn’t mean you give in to ignorance. [The company] is basically changing its policy because a few people have been vocal.”
Smith says she finds it suspicious that the movie chain, which has received complaints over other ads in the past, only changed its policy when it was a gay and lesbian issue.
For Bronfman, though, the negative reaction from the equal marriage side doesn’t compare to the bitterness the chain got from the Christian groups.
“A lot of [the callers] hadn’t even seen the ads,” she says, noting that a bunch of the complaints came from the US. “I was very surprised by the amount of hatred that was being hurled our way.”
Bronfman says the chain won’t reconsider its new policy.
“We have to focus on our guests and what they want,” says Bronfman. “Our venues are meant to be entertainment destinations and we want to protect the movie- going experience.”