The recent allegations against Cinefamily’s management team suggest that critics need to clean up their own backyard before taking on Hollywood.
For nearly a decade now, the Los Angeles film community has been gifted with the incredible programming of The Cinefamily, a not-for-profit movie theater focusing on a wide variety of archival and avant garde film screenings. Calling the historic Silent Movie Theatre its home, Cinefamily has served as a valuable connection point between the Los Angeles film industry and a community of cinephiles, bringing together filmmakers and film lovers and – for those who spend months or years on the Cinefamily staff – a valuable introduction to the exhibition and film festival scene. Sadly, that is not where the story ends: it seems that Cinefamily has also been the site of a troubling and perhaps dangerous work environment, the full breadth of which is now being seen by the public for the first time.
On Monday of this past week, an anonymous email started making the rounds that made some serious allegations against several key members of the Cinefamily management team. The email, which you can read below, singled out both Shadie Einashai, VP of the Board of Directors, and Hadrian Belove, Executive Creative Director, as engaging in a “deep seated pattern” of sexual harassment and abuse against young female volunteers and interns at the organization. Included in the email were copies of court documents accusing Belove of abusing his position of power with the organization; the email writer also noted that this email represented a “small part of a larger story.” Owing to Cinefamily’s cache within the Los Angeles film scene, the story quickly went the Film Twitter version of viral:
In the days that followed, many former Cinefamily volunteers and employees took to social media to corroborate some of the email’s allegations with their own firsthand experiences. Some of the most damning quotes, however, were collected by Jezebel in an interview with former Cinefamily employees, who spoke on the record about the toxic culture they experience at the highest levels of the organization. Ellie O’Brien, a Senior Theater Manager with the company, described a situation where she was privately reprimanded for removing an abusive patron from a screening by both Belove and Executive Managing Director Trevor Jones. Karina Chacham, a former Cinefamily volunteer, was particularly blunt: “It’s like [Belove] made Cinefamily to try and make a cult where he could fuck every girl that came in.”
The widespread nature of the allegations made it particularly hard to ignore, and by Wednesday afternoon, it was announced that Einashai and Belove had stepped down from their respective positions with the organization. Cinefamily released an official statement on social media announcing their resignations and claiming to have only received a single complaint in the past two years, a complaint that was handled to the “satisfaction of the claimant” and resolved through proper channels by Jones. Here’s the statement in its entirety:
The fallout from the allegations is still being felt by members of the Cinefamily community, including filmmakers and actors who have long associated themselves with the Cinefamily brand. As noted by IndieWire, Brie Larson – who co-founded the Women of Cinefamily collective back in 2014 – released her own statement on Wednesday of this past week, noting that these allegations were “upsetting to me personally, both as an advocate for sexual assault survivors and a member of the community.” Others have chosen to show their support for Einashai and Belove, with some offering explicit words of praise for their work at the organization while others choose a more… implicit means of conveying where their sympathies lie.
There’s a lot that can be said about the reaction to the Cinefamily allegations, but I hope that, by now, many of these talking points will be intrinsically understood by readers. That we as a culture should always give claims of sexual assault or harassment the serious consideration they deserve; that people should be praised, not shamed, for stepping forward to speak about inappropriate behavior in the workplace; and, perhaps directly related to film, that a male-dominated industry can have far-ranging ramifications beyond simply which superhero movies get made every summer. As people have pointed out, Cinefamily has close ties to some pretty important independent filmmakers, and it’s twice as hard to speak truth to power when you know that your own career aspirations can and will be directly impacted.
All of that being said, it’s worth ending on a key point here. Last weekend, Vulture film critic Angelica Jade Bastién took a fair amount of heat for a comment she made about the ongoing Joss Whedon controversy, noting that the men in her life who identified as “loud and proud” feminists tended to be “trash.” The truth is, the Belove accusations aren’t an isolated incident. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a handful of men in the film community who claim to stand for equality – filmmakers, writers, and more – face serious allegations of sexual harassment and/or abuse. So I would encourage the people reading this to think hard about what it means to be an advocate. Be critical of the people you encounter and check to make sure that their actions reflect their rhetoric. Because we cannot keep waiting for victims to come forward before we ask ourselves if the safe spaces we’ve created are really all that safe after all.