Wondering About Wonder Woman: The Legality of a Women-Only Movie Screening

Wondering About Wonder Woman.

ErikaWittlieb / Pixabay

An Albany Law School professor, Stephen Clark, has filed an administrative charge against Alamo Drafthouse, a movie theater in Austin, Texas, for hosting women-only screenings of Wonder Woman.[1] The film, which was directed by a woman and is the first superhero film to feature a female leading role since 2005, has become a blockbuster hit since its premiere earlier this summer.[2]

The controversy began when Alamo Drafthouse, which has multiple locations across the nation, promoted the women-only screenings online. On its website, the theater publicly announced, “Apologies, gentlemen, but we’re embracing our girl power and saying ‘No Guys Allowed’ for several special shows… And when we say ‘Women (and people who identify as women) only,’ we mean it. So lasso your geeky girlfriends together and grab your tickets to this celebration of one of the most enduring and inspiring characters ever created.”[3] To further promote its theme of girl power, the theater also promised that “everyone working at this screening—venue staff, projectionist, and culinary team—will be female.”[4] The marketing worked, as many screenings sold out within hours, but came at the price of public outcry, most notably from male would-be customers on social media platforms.[5]

An Amazonian-Sized Controversy?

Clark alleges that women-only screenings are “illegal” because they exclude both male customers and male employees based on gender.[6]  Clark is not alone, and an Austin spokeswoman has said that there have been multiple complaints filed with the city following the screenings.[7] Other commentators and moviegoers are not persuaded by Clark’s allegations. A professor at Rutgers University remarks that while the law does not distinguish discrimination between “malicious and benign intent,” there is no employment discrimination without a showing that a male employee suffered from a “material action” like losing his job or pay.[8] The communications director for Austin’s mayor has also supported the theater’s action by stating that such screenings are legal because Alamo Drafthouse is “a private business. Furthermore, 99% of all the screenings in Austin are dude-friendly.”[9] The theater has since said they are “truly, truly, truly, truly sorry” for offending anyone, but whether Clark’s allegations will be successful remains to be seen.

[1] Peter Holley, Why a Gay Law Professor Is Trying to Shut Down Women-Only ‘Wonder Woman’ Screening, Washington Post, June 1, 2017.

[2] Lia Eustachewich, Movie Theater Sued for Women-Only ‘Wonder Woman’ Screenings, New York Post, June 7, 2017.

[3] Id.

[4] Holley, Why a Gay Law Professor is Trying to Shut Down Women-Only ‘Wonder Woman’ Screening.

[5] Eustachewich, Movie Theater Sued for Women-Only ‘Wonder Woman’ Screenings.

[6] Holley, Why a Gay Law Professor Is Trying to Shut Down Women-Only ‘Wonder Woman’ Screening.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Laura Wamsley. Austin Mayor Responds to Man Angry About ‘Wonder Woman’ Screening, NPR. June 1, 2017.