Accountability at the Alamo Drafthouse: Devin Faraci, Tim League and the Issue with Problematic Icons

In the lead up to The Art of Mondo book being released, I had written up a list covering my top 100 Mondo screen prints. Ranging all the way back to 2006 through to just a few months ago, the list covered the deep and varied array of works that the many, many artists under the Mondo banner had created. I’ve been a screen print collector for more than a few years now (even though it still feels like I’ve only just begun) and have somehow managed to amass drawers full of coloured paper in my house that will simply sit there doing little more than provide welcome nostalgia trips. They show off films and bands and games that I love, and are created by artists whose work I’ve grown to appreciate as they’ve matured over the years. It’s a long list full of thousands of words that I think is worthwhile.

But then Tim League went and quietly announced that controversial film critic Devin Faraci had been working under the Alamo Drafthouse banner ever since he stood down as editor in chief of Birth.Movies.Death. Faraci resigned from that position late in 2016 after allegations of sexual assault emerged. Faraci didn’t deny that these assaults occurred, instead appearing to step out of the public life to ‘get help’. The help, it turns out, was instead continuing his employment under the Alamo Drafthouse banner by doing copywriting work for the cinema. This news came forth just as Fantastic Fest – another off shoot of the umbrella that is Alamo – ramped up promotion for their 2017 festival.

Immediately, the backlash hit. Tim League, being the CEO of the Drafthouse chain and its ancillary companies, threw out a long, yet trite, explanation for Faraci’s rehiring on Facebook. It didn’t go down well with the film loving community, and pretty quickly there were casualties – namely, Fantastic Fest programmer Todd Brown, who announced his resignation, saying:

I would like to be very clear, that despite over a decade of work as the director of international programming at Fantastic Fest, I had no advance knowledge of this decision nor knowledge that Devin was contributing to the program guide. I am still processing my feelings both about this decision and the fact that I—among others—was not consulted in the making of it.

Faraci eventually stepped down from the position after public pressure (and yes, if you’re saying, ‘but didn’t he do that last year?’, uhuh, and more on that in a moment) and his work on the Fantastic Fest program was removed with a new writer stepping in. Meanwhile, the Oscar hopeful film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri decided to remove itself from screening at the festival (the film deals with Frances McDormand’s character taking on a town regarding the unsolved rape and murder of her daughter, so naturally, the promoters decision to distance itself from the festival is understandable). League threw out another response on Facebook, this one clearly written by a crisis management team, stating that Faraci had stood down (again) and feeling slightly critical of the response from the public and media regarding Faraci’s public reappearance.

Apparently Faraci’s involvement in the Alamo Drafthouse family had been one of the worst kept secrets in media over the last year. However, for those not paying attention, and definitely for those not based near Austin, Texas, it wasn’t so obvious. With League seemingly spinning on the spot, unsure what to do with this Faraci eff-up, one has to ask… will Faraci actually be gone for good from the Drafthouse banner this time? After all, Faraci has been a great friend and colleague for League and co., having written some great criticism throughout the years (more on that in a moment), while at the same time being an abrasive, abusive and all round caustic presence online. Faraci had already stood down once, and no doubt League had figured that the old adage of ‘time healing all wounds’ would have been applicable to this situation, with about a year having passed, surely the wound would have healed by now, paving the way for a Faraci-revival?

(Meanwhile, across the other side of the country, sexual assault claims and talks of rape culture at one of LA’s greatest cinema Cinefamily had sprung up. Temporarily closed, the Cinefamily cinema has been faced with a lawsuit. While I won’t go in to it with as much detail as the Alamo Drafthouse discussion above, I will point you in the direction of a great LA Weekly article about it right here.)

So, time can heal all wounds if the atmosphere allows it. The question is though, how long do they actually mean? After all, a few major events have occurred domestically and internationally since Faraci stood down in 2016. Renowned misogynist and all round threat to women everywhere, Donald Trump, became the most powerful man in the world. Millions turned out to Women’s marches around America, protesting for the rights of women all around the world. Oscar winner Casey Affleck spent an awards season being regularly reminded of the sexual assault allegations brought against him after his time directing I’m Still Here. This is not exactly the finest environment to bring back a generally disliked figure in the film criticism industry. Especially in relation to a festival that has regarded as an open, caring and accepting festival.

Yes, Fantastic Fest has shown some intense, grotesque films, but it’s always felt safe. The same goes with the Alamo Drafthouse cinemas, and of course, Cinefamily. Alamo cinemas have long been a mecca for film lovers throughout the world – their staunch rules about what you can and cannot do in their cinemas have spawned some great PSA ads. No mobile phones, no talking, great food, great cinema, and most importantly, a warm, friendly environment. On the surface, this is a positive, desirable business model, one that helps create an image that any company would want to exude. We travelled to Austin, Texas in 2011, and for every night that we were in Austin we attended a film presentation of some kind in the cinemas there. It was truly heavenly.

Yet, the action of Tim League in bringing Devin Faraci back into the fold shows he fully misunderstands his varied audiences. For someone who has their fingers in many pop culture pies (Drafthouse, Drafthouse Films, Mondo, Fantastic Fest, and more), you’d assume that they’d also be hyper aware of the atmosphere regarding pop culture and sexual assaults. Meaning – they’d know that audiences will simply not stand for the promotion and ascension of someone accused of sexual assault.

We live in a time where audiences are more hyper aware of the actions of the creators of their entertainment. Stories of old Hollywood have only become louder in the wider public consciousness – from Roman Polanski’s rape of a 13 year old girl, or the allegations against Woody Allen, or Marlon Brando raping Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris, to Casey Affleck and I’m Still Here, to Victor Salva’s continued employment, and self-designated feminist Joss Whedon’s extra marital affairs, they do not disappear. Society does not forget.

Added to this is the necessary demand from audiences to see accurate representation of characters on the screen. Ghost in the Shell may have been a visual feast, but the casting of widely known not-Asian-at-all actress Scarlett Johansson in the traditionally Japanese role caused it to be a dud at the box office. As with many stories, the casting of Johansson runs much deeper than just being your age old white washing. This great article from The Verge covers the history of Ghost in the Shell well. And of course, the recent casting, then resignation of Ed Skrein in Hellboy in the role of a character who is of Japanese-American origin shows how the narrative should play out in this situation.

I want to be clear – I’m not equating sexual assault with white washing; they both have their layered issues that won’t be explored in this post, and both have caused expected, necessary outrage from the public. What I am saying is that these problems are avoidable. If Tim League had simply let Faraci go in 2016, we wouldn’t be in this mess. If a Japanese actor was cast in Ghost in the Shell or Hellboy to begin with, then we wouldn’t be in this mess. Skrein should be applauded for stepping down (he was unaware of the characters origins before signing on), but he also shouldn’t have been put in that situation to begin with.

And nor should the fans of these various ventures. The events of Roman Polanski’s assault occurred almost 40 years ago, have we not learned from that event? Obviously not, as not only are sexual assaults still occurring, and white washing is a regular occurrence, but literal Nazi’s are protesting in the streets for equal rights. As fans of entertainment, and the consumers of pop culture in its various forms, we expect the creators and leaders of this content and venues to lead by example.

Alamo Drafthouse was doing so well as well earlier in 2017 when it held women only screenings of Wonder Woman. Which is why it makes the wilful ignorance of Tim League all the more difficult to stomach. He was one of us, and he appeared to be once a champion for people of all walks of life. To see a place that many consider a church be turned into a place associated with disgusting figures is distressing and upsetting. I can only imagine what the employees may feel like, let alone the supporters who have dedicated their fandom to these various ventures.  

So, that leads to my personal, initial problem – this list of the 100 best Mondo prints is an ode to the work of the many great artists who have worked at Mondo. I’ve met a bunch of great people through the hobby, and even travelled interstate to support some of the artists that Mondo has housed. Even though Tim League is the owner of Mondo, he’s definitely not the leading mind behind the day to day working of Mondo. That falls on the likes of Mitch Putnam, Rob Jones, Justin Brookhart, Mo Shafeek, Jay Shaw and many many more. They’re as equal fans of pop culture as the many folks in the poster collecting community are. And through no fault of their own, they’re now associated with someone who has helped out an alleged perpetrator of sexual assault.

Once again – Tim League. CEO of the Alamo Drafthouse. Alamo also houses Birth.Movies.Death. and Mondo and Fantastic Fest. He’d been housing Devin Faraci as a secret employee for the past year. So, if you are against supporting perpetrators of sexual assault, then you’d understandably be upset about not knowing that anything you’ve bought under those banners in the past year has gone towards paying the salary of Devin Faraci.

While I will eventually post my list – because the artists throughout their time working at Mondo were not complicit in the employment of Faraci – it won’t stop the uncomfortable feeling associated with it. Many may say, it’s no big deal, you’re not directly supporting League by posting the list, but others will disagree and ask ‘how can you support a rape sympathiser?’

Which then presents the final major issue that the socially conscious pop culture consumers face – how do you deal with the knowledge that the company/person that you like/support/enjoy/care for has done something bad?

When Chick-fil-A came out against marriage equality in America, there was a backlash and boycott of the service. Months went past, and sure enough, people who once said they’d never eat it again were posting about how they just couldn’t resist that tasty chicken. Even though Roman Polanski was ostracized from America, he still garners supporters within the film community and even won an Oscar. Scarlett Johansson’s continual cribbing of the Asian aesthetic and white washing roles has done little to sway supporters of the Marvel films she’s been involved with.

Criterion – the purveyors of great film cultivation – recently announced a mammoth film box set that covers the history of the Olympics. It’s a staggering beast of a release that encompasses everything from the 2016 Olympics, through to the highly controversial Munich Olympics. That event was documented by Leni Riefenstahl and showed Hitler talking to the masses, wearing a swastika. The inclusion of this film in a release of this magnitude is essential in the way that Olympics history is covered, but for many this is an uncomfortable inclusion. By buying such a release, are they in turn supporting the exposure of Nazi material? Technically, not really as this is not a Nazi propaganda box set, but instead an Olympics propaganda box set.

So, there are other chicken food stores, you don’t always have to eat there. Polanski films are few and far between and arguably his best films occurred pre-assault. And Johansson is such a small part of the Marvel films that it’s NBD. Is that right?

Yes, and no. As the various bubbles of society become larger and more varied, it makes choosing what group you wish to support easier. Woody Allen films still win awards, yet it’s now easier and more understandable to skip each yearly release. But, each banner/bubble inherently supports other ventures. So while you may want to avoid supporting Mars for still using palm oil in their chocolates, you’re then also required to cut out Whiskas from your cats diet as they’re one and the same under the Mars banner. Your $4 box of cat biscuits may not appear to directly support the palm oil industry, but you’ll always wonder exactly what percentage of that cat chow goes to that harmful industry.

Unfortunately, in many indirect ways, we’re all complicit with supporting problematic people – whether they be heroes or not. It’s what battles we fight on the path to conquering and help eradicate these issues that matters. By voicing support for those who challenge and question the employment of alleged sex offenders, or racists, or alt-right sympathising folks, we ideally help break illuminate what artists to support and what to not support.

But what happens when someone like Joss Whedon becomes a problematic hero? He’s created some of the most iconic pop culture characters of the past decade and a bit, and also twice helped bring the united Avengers team to the big screen, so what about him and his extramarital affairs? Is it ok to give him a pass and yet throw Devin Faraci and all involved with his reappearance under the bus?

That’s a decision we all have to make for ourselves. I do think that Devin Faraci has written some great articles; but he’s also written some truly heinous ones as well. Personally, I find his review of Edgar Wright’s great The World’s End brilliant, covering the themes that the film explores wonderfully. Ironically, the review discusses the films depiction of the self involved, permanently single, white, middle aged dudebro that is Simon Pegg’s character. The film ends with Pegg’s character, Gary, sitting in the middle of the apocalypse – one that he helped bring on – alone with android versions of his friends by his side as he starts another fight. He has not learned. He has not progressed as a human being. He is, after all, a self absorbed man. I’d like to think that Devin Faraci saw himself in that film – and if he did, that he also saw it as an opportunity to improve himself as a person and say to himself that he did not want to turn out like Gary; alone at the end of the world, abandoned by everyone he knows. 

It’s also ironic that Faraci’s review talks about Gary’s lionisation of a night in his past when things were all great. The coloration between ‘old Hollywood’ and Faraci’s macho chest beating is undeniable – both of which have no place in modern society. The ‘boys club’ mentality that has driven both film criticism and the films themselves is something that should not exist anymore, but it does. It becomes even more problematic when these problematic figures start bandying themselves around as being ‘feminist’ figures – when their actions clearly show that they are far from that. (Hint: men, you don’t get to decide if you are a feminist, you have to let your actions show that you are a feminist and allow legitimate feminists [read: women] to tell you if you are a feminist or not.)

But less than a year later, Faraci showed that he didn’t learn from that review. In 2014, in response to renewed heat surrounding Woody Allen, Faraci wrote a scathing rebuttal against Dylan Farrow, voicing a level of defense for Woody Allen that is rarely seen. Farrow had written an article about the abuse that she had allegedly received from the Oscar winning writer/director/actor. Faraci’s response showed that he was once again the angry man child the internet expected to see. Stamping his feet and raging in the corner, managing to overshadow the legitimately great work that his colleagues on Birth.Movies.Death. were busy creating (seriously, Meredith Borders work will make you envious, as will the many varied voices that that site has fostered throughout the years). Combine the allegations of sexual assault with Faraci’s defense of alleged perpetrators of sexual assault, and then Tim League’s request to silence the voices of women who were speaking out against Faraci’s actions – it doesn’t paint a very pretty picture at all for the Alamo Drafthouse banner. It’s sad that the work of the Birth.Movies.Death. staff was overshadowed by Faraci for so long – and now that they are free of that association, they’ve continued to do great ground-breaking, enviable work within the realm of film criticism.

Where Faraci differs from someone like Roman Polanski is that film criticism and reviewing is inherently about ones self. It’s easier to distance the director, writer, creator, or chicken manufacturer, from the product because you can clearly see that the final product is not a representation of who that person or company is. With film criticism, it’s the way words are used to convey one persons opinions that distinguishes it as its own entity. It literally is that persons point of view.

As the world becomes more socially conscious, we have to ask ourselves, what’s the tipping point for dealing with problematic figures? Roald Dahl famously had some terrible things to say about Jewish people, but in 2016 Steven Spielberg turned one of his books into a film. Do we then boycott Spielberg for in turn promoting Dahl’s voice? Or, let’s go one step further, am I to be blacklisted because I mentioned that I liked an article written by Devin Faraci? Dare I say it, at what point do we reach absurdity in the way we ostracise those who share the voices of those that are deemed wrong?

When Birth of a Nation came out, there were many who criticised those who reviewed the film, asking how they could cover a film that promoted the work of a rapist – especially when the film depicts a sexual assault, and the real world sexual assault resulted in a death. Will the same be asked of those who review the next Woody Allen film? Or the next Victor Salva film? Or Francis Ford Coppola for producing Salva’s Jeepers Creepers films? Is just talking about films or pop culture associated with problematic figures a problem in itself? The answer is pretty simple in regards to that – as long as the issues associated with the film are addressed in the review or article, then it appears to be ok.

In this world of Donald Trump politics, we as consumers and citizens need to be hyper vigilant for what we support and consume. Admittedly, as a straight white male, I’ve got things a heck of a lot better and easier than many others in the world. I can easily stand here and say, yeah, in a few weeks time once this has all blown over I’ll post a my list. But, I’m also aware that due to the association with Tim League, I can fully understand people swearing off the company for life.

With companies needing to employ crisis managers on a regular basis when these issues occur, is this just going to be an expected, regular occurrence in our future? Scratch just beneath the surface of any group or public figure and you’ll most likely find that most of our heroes are assholes. The old adage that once a film or an article is made public, the author no longer owns it, is being regularly tested in today’s society.

The final question remains, should the artists of Mondo distance themselves from, or be punished for the actions of, their CEO? Prolific artist Mike Mitchell has been the sole voice from the artists group to say what he feels in this situation. For many smaller artists, (ones that don’t have extensive timed edition Star Wars prints), they may not feel that they have the same opportunity as Mike Mitchell. But, arguably, if Mondo actually reprimanded anybody for speaking out against League’s actions, then they would be going against the family-like atmosphere they’ve spent years to foster.

One final discussion point to consider as this long digression comes to a conclusion is the question about what is happening with places that many once considered ‘safe’ – namely, our cinemas. Two landmark, ground-breaking cinemas in America are now in question as to how safe they actually are, and many will have been turned into lifelong anti-Alamo/Cinefamily folks because of these actions. After all, if Tim League managed to harbour an alleged sexual offender in quiet for a year, then how many other sexual offenders are possibly working behind the scenes? It’s hard to regain trust when it’s been abused and tarnished in such a manner. People will be wanting blood, and Faraci’s alone will not be enough.

It goes without saying – sexual assault has no place in the film industry, or any industry. People have the right to feel safe in their workplace, and when that safety is taken away, then the foundation of trust is permanently scarred. I hope that my comments about Faraci having written some ‘great articles’ is not misconstrued to be outward support of the man and his actions – he is a terrible figure, and as each day passes, more reports of the systemic cruelty and abuse that runs within him arise. But, if they are construed as being in support of the man, then I am sorry and I hope that through my own actions and amplification of voices that I care about, I can show that I do not support who he is as a person.

So, when I eventually put up my Mondo print list, know that I do it in support of the artists, but with the understanding of what the umbrella company of Alamo Drafthouse and its CEO Tim League has done. While I don’t have the capacity to go in to discussing the underlining toxic masculinity that has been behind a lot of this, I will direct you to the following articles that cover it in a much better way than I ever could, as well as a bunch of other links about various issues raised in this piece.

The Mary Sue and toxic masculinity.

Angry Asian Man and why does Hollywood keep whitewashing Asian characters?

ABC Australia and The Guardian rape culture in cinema.

Texas Monthly‘s expose on the future of Fantastic Fest.

And as a reminder, always question your heroes.

(As one final dig of irony, Faraci once lamented that ‘fandom is broken’ – of course, part of said ‘fandom’ helped with his demise.)

 

Andrew has been a film lover all of his life. For a while now he's been talking about how great films are and usually that's been directly to his wife, Bernadette. Now with the AB Film Review everyone else in the world can listen to what Andrew has to say to his wife.