Oscars 'Night Before' Party Pulled From Beverly Hills Hotel Over Sultan of Brunei Ownership (Exclusive)
UPDATED: Joining a growing boycott, the Motion Picture & Television Fund, which holds the annual event, said it "cannot condone these harsh and repressive" anti-gay laws that Brunei has just instituted, while the hotel said it will "continue to treasure and maintain our century-old ties to the Hollywood community."
The Night Before the Oscars, Hollywood's starriest annual charity event, will not be held at the Beverly Hills Hotel because of the hotel’s ties to Brunei, where Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah instituted a severe new anti-gay penal code based on Sharia law last week.
Officials from the Motion Picture & Television Fund, which holds the benefit -- which The Hollywood Reporter also sponsors -- have met with executives from both the hotel and the Dorchester Collection, owner of the Beverly Hills Hotel, to inform them of the decision.
The Night Before party, which draws Hollywood’s biggest stars and every top executive in town, has been held at the Beverly Hills Hotel since its inauguration in 2003. The brainchild of DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Night Before has raised more than $60 million over the past 12 years. A magnet for Oscar nominees, it's been supported by A-list talent like Warren Beatty and Tom Cruise. Its 2014 host committee included such names as Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, Camila and Matthew McConaughey, Jamie Foxx, Sandra Bullock and Octavia Spencer. In addition to THR, sponsors of the 2014 event included Delta, Dodge, L'Oreal USA, Relativity and Target.
MPTF’s top executives issued a statement to THR explaining that they expressed their “deep concern about the recent enactment of laws in Brunei that call for violent punishment, including amputation and death by stoning, against those engaging in same-sex activity and extramarital sexual relations and those committing adultery. We expressed very clearly that we cannot condone or tolerate these harsh and repressive laws and as a result support a business owned by the Sultan of Brunei or a Brunei sovereign fund associated with the government of Brunei.”
The MPTF joins a growing boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel and other Dorchester Collection properties, which include the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. On Sunday, Virgin Records mogul Richard Branson tweeted that neither his family nor Virgin employees would stay at Dorchester Collection hotels “until the Sultan abides by basic human rights.”
The Dorchester Collection is owned by the Sultan of Brunei, head of the Southeast Asian country, through the Brunei Investment Agency.
Responding to the MPTF's decision, a hotel spokesperson said, "The Motion Picture and Television Fund has been such a valued partner of The Beverly Hills Hotel for the past 12 years, and we have greatly appreciated our long standing association with this beloved charitable institution. We have been proud to support their valiant efforts to sustain programs and services to benefit industry members in times of need, and we will continue to do so any way we can." She continued, "It is our sincere hope that we will have to opportunity to partner with the Motion Picture Television Fund again and re-establish the strong collaboration that we have enjoyed for over a decade. Until then, we will continue to treasure and maintain our century-old ties to the Hollywood community, and remain committed to our core values of integrity, equality and diversity."
The MPTF, in its statement issued by chairman of the board Bob Pisano, vice chairman Mark Fleischer and president/CEO Bob Beitcher, said: “The Beverly Hills Hotel has been an incredible part of Hollywood history and a great supporter of many charities, including MPTF. We sincerely regret that the employees and management of the hotel may suffer because of our response and the response of many other organizations that have aligned against this outrageous and unacceptable legal code.” They also added, “It is our most sincere hope that change will occur and that we can once again continue our longstanding partnership with the Beverly Hills Hotel.”
The MPTF did not immediately announce plans for where it will hold next year’s event, scheduled for Feb. 21.
Also on Monday, Teen Line -- a confidential phone helpline for teenagers -- revealed that it is moving its annual fundraising luncheon, which is set for Wednesday, from the hotel to the Sony lot. Honorees at this year's event will include Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment and chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group, and her sister Jenny Pascal, a marriage and family therapist who is the organization's training director.
Other groups that have canceled plans to hold events at the hotel include the Feminist Majority Foundation, which has moved Monday night's Global Women’s Rights Awards to the Hammer Museum in Westwood, and the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs, which has moved its May 6 Impact Awards to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The Feminist Majority also has called for a noon demonstration Monday in the Beverly Hills park across from the hotel.
The Human Rights Campaign Fund also has urged organizations to move their events to hotels that "aren't owned by foreign governments and leaders that allow for the execution of its LGBT citizens." Celebrities who have lent their voices to the call for a boycott include Ellen DeGeneres, Sharon Osbourne and director William Friedkin, while designers Brian Atwood and Peter Som have called for a boycott of the Dorchester Collection’s European properties during the various fashion weeks that take place abroad. On April 26, a small group protested outside the Beverly Hills Hotel to raise awareness of the issue.
Addressing the boycott, Dorchester Collection CEO Christopher Cowdray said, "While we recognize people's concerns, we believe this boycott should not be directed to our hotels and dedicated employees. The economic impact of this not only affects our loyal team members but extends to the local community, our valued partners and suppliers."
He made the larger point that in a global economy, consumers are often unaware of who invests various brands and that state-owned investment funds from foreign countries frequently invest in American companies. Speaking of the Dorchester Collection hotels, he said, "We will continue to honor their iconic heritage and remain committed to our core values of integrity, equality and diversity."