In a pandemic, as rioters fill the streets, Netflix quietly purchases the Egyptian Theatre
May 29, 2020 —
Dear Friend of the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre,
Thank you for joining more than 2600 concerned citizens who have signed the petition urging the board of the American Cinematheque to hold a public meeting, explain the problems facing the troubled non-profit, halt any potential sale of the Egyptian Theatre and be transparent about its plans moving forward. The petition is directed to the board, to the local city councilmember's office, and to the California Attorney General, who was already investigating the American Cinematheque before it sought to sell the theater.
This morning, Ryan Faughnder published the exclusive news in a paywalled Los Angeles Times story, confirming the sale of the theater to Netflix for an undisclosed sum, again touting the promised three-day-a-week American Cinematheque schedule that has already been shown to be subject to Netflix’ commercial whims, and justifying the transfer as the result of the approval of unnamed and unspecified “state and local officials.”
The American Cinematheque itself later clarified in a tweet* explicitly naming Attorney General Xavier Becerra as having been involved in the negotiations. This appears to confirm our long held assertion that the landmark was held in the public trust, and the building could not be sold without the approval of the California State Charities Registry and the AG. We wish this process had been public, and the justification for approving the sale explained to the community.
Although this petition and our opposition to the sale are mentioned in the article, Faughnder did not call us for a quote. However, Mayor Eric Garcetti is prominently quoted in the article as being in strong support of the purchase: “This extraordinary partnership will preserve an important piece of our cultural heritage that can be shared for years to come.”
Of course, that is a much better description of a theater held in the public trust by a member-based cinema non-profit than it is for a showcase venue owned by a publicly traded media company.
Later this morning, the trade magazine Variety published a nearly identical puff piece about the sale, which is not paywalled.
We are deeply troubled by the lack of transparency that has surrounded this transaction, by the failure to clearly communicate the non-profit’s supposedly dire financial situation to its members and volunteers, and the refusal to ever hold a public meeting in which board members would answer questions about the proposed sale and the future of the American Cinematheque and Egyptian Theatre.
The sale, announced in a puff piece exclusive in the Los Angeles Times with none of these hard questions answered, only leaves us with more questions.
Why does the American Cinematheque need the unspecified millions of dollars secured in this sale, if it no longer owns and operates an historic theater? Now that the American Cinematheque’s income no longer helps preserve the landmark Egyptian Theatre, why should anyone feel compelled to contribute beyond buying a ticket to an event? And what confidence should American Cinematheque members and the wider Los Angeles community have that the non-profit board won’t again fail to manage its finances and squander these resources, and again be threatened with the loss of its tax exempt status?
We continue to call for an open public meeting, between the board of the American Cinemetheque, the dues paying members of the non-profit, and the general public, and with the new owners of our landmark Egyptian Theatre, Netflix, so that people can finally get answers to the many questions that have been stirring around the theater for more than a year.
In light of the pandemic, this can be a virtual meeting. Surely, Netflix has the technical capacity to organize such an event.
Please continue to share the petition with friends who love the American Cinematheque and want to see it thrive in the historic Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. And stay tuned for additional news as we have it.
Yours for Los Angeles,
Kim Cooper & Richard Schave
Friends of the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre
*update 1:46pm: Not a good sign for "transparency" in the Am Cinematheque / Netflix "partnership": this tweet (screenshot) quoting board Chair Rick Nicita confirming the California AG had to okay the sale of the Egyptian Theatre was deleted after we linked to it.
The tweet read: "The Egyptian Theatre remains our Hollywood home and we are grateful to both the City of Los Angeles and the Attorney General of the State of California as we accept this incredible opportunity that will greatly benefit the American Cinematheque.” - Chairman of the AC Rick Nicita"
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