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Cinestate Faces Internal Revolt Following Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Editors of two of the studio's publications, Birth.Movies.Death. and Fangoria, have announced they will not work until their anti-harassment demands are met.

An excerpt from Birth.Movies.Death. and Fangoria editors' letter to Cinestate leaders.

An excerpt from Birth.Movies.Death. and Fangoria editors’ letter to Cinestate leaders.

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UPDATE BELOW. Cinestate is facing internal backlash after a recent report by The Daily Beast that details the independent Texas movie studio’s alleged complicity in several instances of sexual misconduct. Editors of two publications owned by the company, Birth.Movies.Death. and Fangoria, on Monday publicly shared a letter they have shared with their bosses demanding Cinestate take several measures in the realm of anti-harassment. They’re refusing to work until the company meets the demands. (The full letter is available below.)

Over the weekend, The Daily Beast published a deep-dive investigation titled “How a Right-Wing Movie Studio Enabled the ‘Harvey Weinstein’ of Indie Film,” referencing producer Adam Donaghey, who is currently facing a charge of sexual assault of a child, and produced several of Cinestate’s films. The article also offers a new look into allegations that Cinestate enabled a pattern of harassment not just by Donaghey, but by others on the sets of its films.

“We at Birth.Movies.Death. and Fangoria are troubled and angered by the recent Daily Beast report citing Cinestate’s unsafe, toxic film sets. After the article’s publication, Cinestate CEO Dallas Sonnier encouraged us to publicly speak our minds on the subject, a necessary first step of many overdue steps toward transparency,” wrote the publications’ four top editors: Fangoria’s Phil Nobile Jr. and Meredith Borders and BMD’s Evan Saathoff and Scott Wampler.

They continued: “It is beyond past the time for corporate negligence and the protection of predators at the expense of the women they work with. It hurts us to know that women were jeopardized and silenced by the company we work for, and we recognize that BMD and Fango’s own writers could potentially have been put at risk by this same secrecy and disregard for safety. That hypothetical, in and of itself, creates an untenable relationship between Cinestate and our respective families at Fango and BMD.”

Among the allegations in the article include one from Cristen Leah Haynes, who revealed that she was sexually harassed by Donaghey in 2014 while in production on the film “Occupy, Texas.” The report contains disturbing audio of the encounter, where Donaghey bluntly asked Haynes to show him her underwear while riding in the car between locations.

The report alleges that 10 people reached out to either Sonnier or production president Amanda Presmyk to inform them of that instance and other examples of Donaghey’s history of bad behavior and that their protestations fell on deaf ears.

The BMD and Fangoria editors are demanding that Cinestate:

– Formulate and publicly release an action plan to precisely deal with preventing harassment

– Implement mandatory sexual-harassment training for all of its employees and on-set contractors

– Make a “substantial donation” to an anti-sexual-misconduct organization like the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center or RAINN

– Separate editorially from Fangoria (Cinestate has no editorial control of BMD, they wrote)

“We have heard — and share a hundredfold — our audience’s love for these brands. After all, we helped develop them, protected them during difficult times, and made them matter in ways their creators couldn’t have imagined. But this is a crucial moment, and if Fango and MBD have to say goodbye to make this important point, so be it,” the editors wrote.

“Cinestate can decide to continue our compensation and employment or not, but the undersigned will not be performing any of our salaried duties for the company until the above questions are answered, and the above actions are performed, to our satisfaction,” the letter included.

Sonnier responded to IndieWire’s questions about the letter with a statement that read, “My FANGO & BMD editors have my full support in speaking their minds. I have never silenced anyone in my entire career, and I’ve already had a respectful discussion with them for the future health of our company and brands. I own up to past mistakes and invite people to hold me accountable, as I lay out a course of action we pledge to follow.”

Sonnier was quoted in The Daily Beast piece suggesting that his company was “under siege” by the allegations, which he said were motivated by “personal vendettas” and a perception of Cinestate as a producer of conservative content.

Two of the editors reached for comment, Borders and Wampler, told IndieWire the letter would be the extent of their statements on the matter at this time.

Sexual misconduct allegations hit even closer to home at BMD in 2016, when its former editor in chief Devin Faraci stepped down amid allegations. At that point, the site was owned by Alamo Drafthouse, which earlier this year sold the publication to Cinestate.

A BMD post announcing the sale last month celebrated the editorial independence the publication was gaining under its new ownership. In 2018, Cinestate acquired Fangoria, a long-running and much-loved horror publication, with plans to relaunch it as a quarterly and develop it into a production label.

UPDATED, June 10: Film publications Fangoria and Birth.Movies.Death. are now seeking new owners, their top editors said in a statement. The move comes after the editors of the Cinestate-owned publications revolted following reports of the independent Texas movie studio’s alleged complicity in several instances of sexual misconduct. The editors had demanded a number of changes in the realm of anti-harassment earlier this week.

Here’s the full letter:

In discussions with Cinestate, we have been encouraged so far by what we believe is a genuine desire to improve conditions for women on sets, to donate funds to important organizations like RAINN, and to do their part to help make the industry safer for everyone. Our priority is real results and demonstrable progress. Change is the goal, and we believe it should be encouraged and supported when undertaken.

That said, since releasing our initial statement, we have come to understand and respect that Fangoria and Birth.Movies.Death. cannot continue under the Cinestate banner. It is our understanding that new buyers are being sought for both brands.

Thanks for everyone who offered kind words and support this week. We hope Fango and BMD can one day live again in a fashion that our readers can wholly embrace.

Respectfully,

Phil Nobile Jr., Editor-in-Chief, Fangoria
Meredith Borders, Managing Editor, Fangoria
Evan Saathoff, Editor-in-Chief, BMD
Scott Wampler, Managing Editor, BMD

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