A silhoutte of a face and hands holding a smartphone, which has the Almao Drafthouse Cinema logo on it.
Rafael Henrique / SOPA Images Sipa USA / AP Images

Alamo Drafthouse: Far from Fantastic

The nationwide dine-in cinema chain remains popular despite accusations of union busting and allegations of sexual assault.

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Over the years, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema has become the multiplex for people who want to see films not only in a safe, comfortable space—but a cool one. The Austin-based, dine-in-theater empire is basically what the Hard Rock Cafe was in the ‘80s and ‘90s—whenever a franchise opens in a new area, it’s like the area has been blessed with a playhouse filled with pop-culture awesomeness. 

I’ve only been to an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema twice in my life—the LaCenterra one in Katy, near Houston—and both of those times were to attend press screenings for movies Netflix was dropping. From the minute I stepped into the lobby and saw that the carpeting resembles the carpeting from the creepy hotel corridors in The Shining, I knew this was a place where film geeks can let their freak flag fly. At this moment, a lot of film geeks are most likely at the flagship location on South Lamar, taking in the yearly showcase of genre films that is the Alamo-founded Fantastic Fest

However, in the past few years, there have been reports of certain geeks, from longtime patrons to staff members, getting way too comfortable with women, including female Alamo employees.

Back in September 2017, the public outcry sparked by the #MeToo movement led to the chain having to sever ties with two very problematic cinephiles. First, it was revealed that Devin Faraci, who edited the Alamo-created film site Birth.Movies.Death before steeping down in 2016 after allegations of sexual assault surfaced, was quietly rehired by Alamo founder/former CEO Tim League as a copywriter for that year’s Fantastic Fest. Even though League issued a statement saying Faraci “entered recovery” and deserved a second chance, Faraci eventually turned in his resignation. (Fantastic Fest programmer Todd Brown also resigned just to separate himself from all of this.) Shortly after that, League and Alamo broke off its relationship with Ain’t It Cool News founder/longtime Alamo supporter/alpha fanboy Harry Knowles (who also co-founded Fantastic Fest with League and others) when sexual-assault allegations—mostly made by several Alamo employees—started popping up about him. 

Harry Knowles, a redhead in a very loud Hawaiian shirt, wears an excited expression as he poses with Keanu Reeves, in a suit with no tie.
Harry Knowles (right) poses with Keanu Reeves in 2014. Alamo Drafthouse distanced itself from Knowles after several sexual assault allegations against him, including from employees of the cinema chain. Jack Plunkett / AP Images

The stories of men behaving badly didn’t stop there. In August 2020, Kansas City alt-weekly The Pitch released a lengthy story where numerous former employees revealed the toxic, hellish goings-on at the now-defunct Kansas City location. The list of grievances run the gamut: employees getting verbally and physically assaulted by higher-ups, sexual harassment, poor working conditions, racism, bad plumbing, rats and roaches, an employee on the run from a rape charge, etc. From the way the ex-employees tell it, League and the upper brass did little about it when they were notified. Editor-in-chief Brock Wilbur, who wrote the story with film writer Abby Olcese, found “a real microcosm of toxicity had been allowed to blossom for over a decade.” Reporting on the whole thing soured his opinion of the theater chain he once frequented. “Every time somebody tries to give them a second chance from something,” he told me, “you’re revealed a few months later to be like, no, it’s still just shit all the way, top to bottom.” 

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Since then, Alamo Drafthouse has had to deal with more bad news. They’ve had to close down locations while opening up new ones. During the pandemic, the chain laid off over 80 employees and filed for bankruptcy, getting help from a $10 million PPP loan and new co-owners coming in to pick up the slack. Afterwards, it was reported that Altamont Capital Partners, one of the co-owners, also owns an operator of taxpayer-funded foster-care facilities that have been accused of abuse, neglect, sexual assault and physical mistreatment. Earlier this year, two-thirds of the South Lamar staff formed the Drafthouse United union, organizing a walkout during the summer when management was mum on the union’s proposal for a proper working wage. (The union claimed one of the organizers was fired in retaliation.) Oh, and there was also that time a couple years back when customers at a Nebraska location were accidentally served a cleaning solution instead of a cocktail

I recently went on my Facebook page to ask people what keeps them going to Alamo despite, you know, everything. Some were not aware of the incidents, while some knew so much they wondered why people still went to these theaters. There were those who had complicated feelings, showing support for their local theater and its staff rather than the company as a whole. North Carolina resident Kevin Marshall, who also runs the Triangle Retro-Revival Screenings Facebook group, enjoys seeing flicks at the Alamo Drafthouse in Raleigh. But he does believe that Alamo, as a corporate entity, hasn’t turned a corner in making things right. “I think sincere efforts have been made, but is that enough?” he wrote. “For me and my selfish see-all-of-the-movies goal, it would appear I’ve made a sort of peace with it, or at least without protesting with non-patronage. But I expect the gestures are not enough for people who were directly involved with those incidents, and probably not for those in touch with corporate or for those who frequent the Alamo branches where this was an immediate in-your-face experience.”

“Every time somebody tries to give them a second chance from something you’re revealed a few months later to be like, no, it’s still just shit all the way, top to bottom.”

So, what is Alamo currently doing internally to restore its good name and prevent any more problematic incidents from bubbling up in the future? I couldn’t tell ya. I’ve tried reaching out to Alamo and they were either unavailable for comment or too busy with Fantastic Fest to make one. As theaters all over the country continue its uphill battle of enticing people back to the movies (Tom Cruise can’t star in every movie!), I get why Alamo wouldn’t want to re-address the scandals and controversies that have plagued the chain over the years. But they should also realize that while they do have a loyal, steady fanbase, there are those who don’t want to associate with a chain that seems to turn a blind eye on perhaps too many occasions when employees report toxic behavior, either from superiors or audiences. They may want to venture to other, more respectful dine-in multiplexes—and some of them even have pillows and blankets! 

Also, as we live in an age when film-geek culture is becoming overrun with dudebros, fanboys and other loudmouthed bullies, ready to start a ruckus over such trivial matters like a Black woman playing the Little Mermaid, it almost seems like Alamo is not only welcoming these lunatics, but has given them a protective home. If Alamo still wants to be the sort of cinematic wonderland where a man can creatively propose to his future bride, perhaps they should go all out in assuring the public that creepy-ass dudes who are still mad about what Martin Scorsese said regarding comic-book movies are not welcome to the wedding party.