Organizer says furor over Cinemark CEO’s Prop 8 donation and film about gay icon hit home for him
PLANO — Israel Luna has always been much more of an artist than an activist.
But the 36-year-old Luna, a well-known gay independent filmmaker from Dallas, said a recent controversy involving Plano-based Cinemark Theatres struck a nerve with him.
Some in the LGBT community have been calling for a boycott of Cinemark, after CEO Alan Stock contributed $9,999 to Yes on 8, the campaign to outlaw same-sex marriage in California. And now Cinemark, the nation’s third-largest theater chain, stands to profit from showings of "Milk," the recently released film about murdered San Francisco gay-rights activist Harvey Milk.
In response, Luna is organizing a protest outside the Cinemark Legacy in Plano on Friday, Dec. 12, the same day "Milk" is set to open at the company’s hometown theater. The time of the rally has yet to be determined, but Luna said it likely will be around noon.
"I’ve never done anything like this before," said Luna, who serves as segment producer for DVtv, Dallas Voice’s online video news outlet. "I guess this one hit close to home because it has to do with the industry that I’m in. I’m all about movies and I’m a huge movie fan and that’s my business. I really believe in this, and I really do think that this is the right thing to do."
Although Luna is new to planning LGBT demonstrations, he’s received support and guidance from the organizers of successful recent rallies at First Baptist Church of Dallas and Dallas City Hall. An organizational meeting for the Plano Cinemark rally is set for noon Saturday, Dec. 6 at Buli CafÃ©, 3908 Cedar Springs Road in Dallas.
Sam Fulcher, who was a first-time activist when he helped organize the First Baptist rallies in November, said it’s good to see additional newcomers getting involved in the wake of Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in California.
Fulcher said he plans to attend the Plano Cinemark rally and has already sent e-mails about it to the 200-plus people whose addresses he accumulated during the First Baptist demonstrations. Fulcher said he believes that in some ways, Stock’s actions are worse than those of the Rev. Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor whose series of anti-gay sermons sparked the rallies outside First Baptist.
"I guess when I think about it, it makes me even more angry because here’s a guy who’s obviously giving money to take away gay rights, and now he’s wanting to profit from a film about the gay rights movement," said Fulcher, 34. "I don’t think you can get any more blatantly hypocritical than that."
Luna also has consulted with Etta Zamboni, the lead organizer of a Proposition 8 protest outside City Hall on Nov. 15 that drew an estimated 1,200 people.
Zamboni, a Dallas representative for the national grassroots organization Join the Impact, said JTI hasn’t officially endorsed the Cinemark protest. But Zamboni said she personally supports the protest and plans to attend.
Luna said he’s contacted the Plano Police Department and met with management at the Legacy theater to inform them about the rally. He also said he’s contacted representatives from the Angelika Plano, another theater where "Milk" is showing. Luna said he’s hoping fliers distributed to movie-goers at the rally will be good for free popcorn or discounted tickets to see "Milk" at the Angelika.
James Meredith, a spokesman for Cinemark, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment on the rally this week. Last week, Meredith issued a statement to Dallas Voice noting that the company itself didn’t make a contribution to either side in the Prop 8 fight, and saying it doesn’t take positions on issues that don’t directly affect its business.
"It would be inappropriate to influence our employees’ position on personal issues outside the work environment, especially on political, social or religious activities," the company said in the statement.
Joe Blair III, an openly gay consultant for Cinemark who serves as facilitator for an LGBT business network in Collin County, declined comment on the rally this week. Morris Garcia, president of the Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a local LGBT equality group, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
While demonstrations already have been staged outside Cinemark-owned theaters in cities including Chicago and Boulder, Colo., some in the LGBT community fear the tactic could send a negative message and be portrayed as an attack on Stock. Stock is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which marshaled tens of millions in contributions from Mormons to Yes on 8.
As an alternative to protests, some LGBT groups are encouraging people to see "Milk" at non-Cinemark-owned theaters the weekend of Dec. 5-7 in an effort to make it one of the top-grossing films at the box office.
But for Luna, just going to see "Milk" at another theater isn’t enough. And despite his lack of experience, his filmmaking background could give the protest a dramatic flair.
"I want drag queens there. I want trannies. I want all colors of the rainbow," Luna said. "I want people to know that we’re a gay group.