This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
Movie premieres are usually big affairs. The red carpet is rolled out for a seemingly endless parade of stars. Flanked on one side by fans who have stood for hours just to catch a glimpse of (or perhaps get a selfie with), their big screen icon, while the other is lined with paparazzi just looking for that single snap that will bring in the big money. Then, right in the heart of the thing, you have the entertainment press looking to grab an interview.
So it is little surprise then that it is a natural target for those with an axe to grind. Whether it be an issue with the film, it’s content, the filmmaker themselves, or just an opportunity to raise awareness for an important cause, there are many reasons why a film premiere might find itself being picketed, protested, or invaded.
Upon first hearing that Suffragette, which revolves around the struggle of women to win the vote, had its premiere picketed, you would have been forgiven if you had expected it to be the work of one of the so-called “men’s rights” groups. But thankfully not.
The premiere was actually targeted by Sister Uncut, a feminist movement making a far more laudable attempt to raise awareness of, and to protest, the cuts to domestic abuse services. Dozens of members managed to get onto the red carpet, where they undertook a lie-in, chanting, “dead women can’t vote” before being forcibly removed.
During interviews on the red carpet after the event, two of the stars declared their approval. Helena Bonham Carter said the act was “the perfect response to our film” while Carey Mulligan said it was “awesome.”
As well known for their confrontational style as their actual animal rights work, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) targeted 2011s Zookeeper, starring Kevin James. It wasn’t the quality of the movie that was causing grumbles, although some would argue that was worth a protest in itself. No: PETA focused on the alleged mistreatment of animals in its production.
According to the organization, a giraffe (named Tweet) “died on the set during the movie’s production” and that an elephant “may have been abused.” A bit more digging clarifies that Tweet died in his enclosure, after all his scenes had been filmed. Claims that Tweet had been kept in a 20 by 20 foot cage during filming were dismissed as “patently untrue” by the American Humane Association (ie the ‘no animals were harmed during the filming of this movie’ guys).
Even so, about 20 or so protestors eventually attended the premiere, armed with signs and T-shirts. Yet, despite the protest, the claims of animal cruelty and a critical scathing (14% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), it still managed to take $20 million in its opening weekend (eventually going on to gross $170 million worldwide).
In 1999 Kevin Smith released his third film as director, the religious comedy, Dogma. Some members of the Catholic Church were not too pleased about this. Several pickets were organised, including one at the New York Film Festival, which was attended by The Catholic League and The American Society for the Defence of Tradition, Family and Property. They protestors claimed that “this film mocks everything we hold sacred – God, the Church, the Mass and Mary’s virginity. It condones what we condemn – murder, obscenity, violence, profanity, drugs, drunkenness and rebellion!”
When protests reached his local, small town cinema, Smith just couldn’t resist but head on over. Smith, along with family and friends made their own anti-Dogma placards and joined the protest. When a local news crew went down he was spotted, but denied he was the man himself. He did say he had heard the film was “not good.”
The Last Temptation Of Christ
This adaptation of the controversial 1953 Nikos Kazantzakis novel of the same name, was another film which drew the ire of religious groups. Directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Paul Schrader and starring Wilem Defoe as Jesus, The New York Times reported that the opening of the movie was preceded by “a month of protests and angry rallies.”
On the day of release, the biggest of these protests saw a group about 500-strong congregate outside the Ziegfield Theatre in New York, but few others reached the 100 people mark.
As a result of these protests some cinemas, including America’s then fourth largest chain, General Cinema, refused to show the film, although the group did later apologise to Scorsese.
Although there were positive reviews, the film, which cost about $6.5 million, only made around $8.3 million at the worldwide box office. While some of this can be put down to the pickets and resultant refusal to show the film, the more likely reason for it not doing so well was down to an already limited release, the heavy subject matter and nearly three-hour long run time.
Better known for getting Al Pacino to wear ridiculous wigs, this HBO dramatization of the legendary producer’s trial for murder (for which he was sentenced to 19 years), was picketed by friends of actress Lana Clarkson, who Spector was convicted of murdering.
Having originally attempted to stop production of the special (written by David Mamet), they instead shifted focus to try to ensure the piece did not win any Emmys, claiming it was “a slap in the face.” Their biggest issue was that it apparently suggested that Clarkson committed suicide brought on by turning 40, with one review suggesting that “the film seems eager to suggest Spector was found guilty mostly of being a freak.”
While some might argue art can be open to interpretation, this reading reflects some of Mamet’s public statements, where he said “if he’d just been a regular citizen, they never would have indicted him.”
The second entry on this list from Kevin Smith. When the publicity-hungry Westboro Baptist church (the unpleasant group who picket the funerals of military personnel and disaster victims with inflammatory, often homophobic, signs) saw an opportunity to gain some more worldwide media attention by picketing Red State, Smith encouraged his own fans to organize a counter-protest across the street.
Taking it further, he even managed to arrange some of the family to actually see the film. While a couple of them left after a few minutes, describing the film as “pure filth” he actually managed to get a couple of them to stay to engage in discussion about it.
50 Shades Of Grey
The adaptation of the first of E L James’s wildly successful Twilight-turned-billionaire BDSM trilogy was also met by protests. The group 50 Shades Is Domestic Abuse (presumably named after the novel) staged a protest, concerned about the perception of violence towards women.
The group, protesting at the UK premiere, held up placards with slogans such as “Fifty Shades is abuse” and “Mr Grey is a rapist.” Group founder Natalie Collins, said in an interview that the group was “really concerned about the way the books romanticise and glamorise an abusive person.”
Whereas unlike at the Suffragettepremiere, where the stars came out in support of the action, creator E L James, director Sam Taylor-Johnson and star Dakota Johnson all went on the defensive, denying the claims of the protest group.
The Hateful Eight
Following Quentin Tarantino lending his support to the increasingly high-profile anti-police brutality movement in the US, several police organisations (The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, and the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police), all called for a boycott of The Hateful Eight.
The Fraternal Order of Police executive director Jim Pasco promised there would be a “surprise” for Tarantino “any time between now and [the premiere].” Although having to explicitly rule out violence in retaliation to Tarantino’s anti-police brutality statements, he did threaten to hurt him “economically.”
The biggest shock about the so-called “surprise” was that literally nothing happened. Whether it was decided that using police officers to intimidate or harass a high-profile anti-police brutality campaigner was a bad tactical decision, or whether a lot of cops really, really wanted to see The Hateful Eight, this was one protest that ended with a fizzle, not a bang.