Austin writer asks Alamo Drafthouse to diversify its programming (and programmers)

Austin writer asks Alamo Drafthouse to diversify its programming (and programmers)

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Courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

The Alamo Drafthouse announced Tuesday that one of its leading programmers, or as the Austin Chronicle describes him, “an institution,” Zack Carlson, will be leaving to pursue his budding writing career.

We’ll admit to having blinked and missed the staffing change at the growing theater chain, which recently announced plans to add more of its dinner-and-a-movie concept and its no talking, texting or general tomfoolery policy in New York.

But Twitter pointed us to this post by Austin writer Jessica Luther, who raises an interesting question: Does the Alamo Drafthouse and its programming skew too white and male?

Luther’s post is nothing but in admiration and appreciation of the Drafthouse — who for years has garnered accolades for its dedication to the filmgoers experience and its panoply of sing-alongs, quote-alongs and themed screenings of fan favorites and film classics. But as she points out, the lineup of programmers (and their programming) is noticeably of a certain race and gender. Luther writes on her blog:

Because this tweet made me interested in who you all hire for your programmers at the Drafthouse because you do such cool, innovative, and fun stuff. And it turns out that you hire white men. I don’t know anything about the history of the Alamo Drafthouse and maybe this is just a snapshot of how it is now and it hasn’t always been this way. But just in case, I have a suggestion.

You are probably about to hire someone new. So, I’m writing you today to ask that you consider diversifying your programming staff. Because that can only make what is already an amazing place EVEN MORE AMAZING.

The Drafthouse’s team was quick to the draw, and posted this as part of their response to Luther’s post on Twitter: “Thank you, consider it read and absorbed.”

And after scanning the theaters’ Austin programming schedule for January and February, and looking back at the events CultureMap has listed in our events calendar, I’m inclined to believe that Luther mounts a genuine argument.

When you look at the Drafthouse’s lineup of events and match them up against recent census data for Austin, there’s some incongruence. The city, now considered a majority-minority city because “no ethnic or demographic group exists as a majority of the city’s population,” is on track to have a Hispanic population of nearly the same size as its Anglo counterparts by 2020.

And while the city may become more diverse in some ways, as mentioned above, it’s not all rosy: demographers estimate that African Americans will make up only five percent of the city’s population within the next few decades.

The Drafthouse’s lack of racial and gender diversity in its programs is of course part of a much larger problem in the film industry, where leading roles for minorities and women alike are difficult to come by. But is it fair to hold the Drafthouse responsible for this much larger, decidedly amorphous problem? 

Not really, and Luther doesn’t do that, but she does do something more constructive. She calmly (calmly!) asks (my words, not hers), “Hey guys, did you notice that your programs have a lot of white dudes in them? Mind mixing it up a little? Thanks.”

Civility, perhaps, will win out.