Miramax today joined the long list of companies protesting a new anti-gay law that the governor of North Carolina signed last week. But the new owner of Miramax, Qatari businessman Nasser Al-Khelaifi, is also a minister without portfolio in the government of the oil- and gas-rich nation of Qatar, where it remains illegal to be gay.
According to the most recent U.S. State Department report on human rights, in Qatar “a man convicted of having same-sex sexual relations with a man 16 years of age or older may receive a sentence of seven years in prison.”
While Miramax’s stance on North Carolina is commendable, it illustrates the complexities that liberal-thinking movie companies face when dealing with countries like China, where gay marriage remains illegal, or American states like North Carolina that do not share their owners’ views on human rights.
“That’s an interesting point,” said Ben Graumann, a spokesman for Equality NC, one of the organizers of the letter-writing campaign.
And Al-Khalaifi is clearly a progressive and forward-thinking man: In February, he personally suspended a player on the French pro soccer team he owns, Paris Saint-Germain, for calling his coach a “faggot.”
The new law in North Carolina eliminates existing municipal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people and prevents such protections from being passed by the state’s cities in the future. The legislation also forces transgender students in public schools to use restrooms and other facilities inconsistent with their gender identity, and compels the same type of discrimination against transgender people to take place in state buildings, including in public universities.
Miramax CEO Steve Schoch signed a letter on behalf of his company – along with some 90 other titans of industry – urging the North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and the state Legislature to overturn the law. Perhaps his 42-year-old boss could put in a good word with the emir urging him to overturn the more harsher anti-gay laws in Qatar.
A former pro tennis player, Al-Khelaifi is a lifelong friend of Qatar’s current ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. They met on the tennis courts when they were boys and have been friends and business associates ever since.
Miramax founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who have also signed the letter urging North Carolina to rescind its anti-gay law, sold the company to Disney in 1993. In 2010, Disney sold the company to a group of investors that included the state-owned Qatar Investment Authority, which was founded by Sheikh Tamim’s father. That group sold the company to Al-Khelaifi’s BeIN Media Group earlier this month.
On its website, the BeIN Media Group has a page about corporate responsibility, saying “We support initiatives opposing racism.” Now that Miramax has joined the fight in North Carolina, perhaps its parent company will update its site to include support of initiatives opposing discrimination against gays, as well.
A spokeswoman for Miramax confirmed that CEO Schoch had signed the North Carolina letter on behalf of the company. “We did this as Miramax,” she said. “There has been an ownership change, but we are continuing to operate as an independent studio. This is Miramax signing this letter.”
Schoch said in a statement: “Miramax is proud to support diversity, and we stand united with our industry peers against any discriminatory law that threatens the civil and human rights of the LGBT community or any minority group. As such, Miramax considers locations and partners that share our values and our belief in the right to equality. We urge Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina to make the right choice.”