Hollywood's glitziest party could soon find a new home.
Since 2003, the Motion Picture & Television Fund's Night Before the Oscars event has been held at the Beverly Hills Hotel. But now the Sunset Boulevard resort is being boycotted by gay groups and others because its owner, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, is poised to implement Sharia law, calling for death by stoning for gays and adulterers. The state-owned Brunei Investment Agency owns the Dorchester Collection, which includes the Beverly Hills Hotel, Hotel Bel-Air and properties in Rome, Paris, Milan and Geneva. And that has led to calls for boycotting all the hotels, with a special emphasis on the Beverly Hills Hotel.
While organizers of the Night Before gala (sponsored by THR, which also holds its annual Women in Entertainment event at the Beverly Hills Hotel) have not yet met to discuss the Feb. 21 benefit, others are canceling events the property. The OutGiving Conference, a meeting of LGBT donors beginning May 1, decided to use a different location. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which held its Respect Awards there in October, said it won't be back, with a rep telling THR, "We will not allow someone whose values are so grossly incompatible with our mission to profit from a GLSEN event." But the Night of 100 Stars benefit, which takes place each year on Oscar night, said it would honor its contract with the hotel, explaining, "Though we abhor the Sultan of Brunei's medieval anti-gay policies, we totally support the American management and support staff at the hotel, including their recent statements distancing themselves on this matter from Brunei and the Sultan."
A hotel spokesperson says, "The Dorchester Collection continues to abide by the laws of the countries we operate in and does not tolerate any form of discrimination of any kind. … The laws that exist in other countries outside of where the Dorchester Collection operates do not affect the policies that govern how we run our hotels." But some aren't giving it a free pass. "I won't be visiting the Hotel Bel-Air or the Beverly Hills Hotel until this is resolved," tweeted Ellen DeGeneres, with director William Friedkin echoing, "I'm in total support of the boycott against Brunei's holdings in the U.S."
On her Facebook page, Sharon Osbourne recounted the reasons for the protest before saying, "My life is full of fond memories of times spent at each of these hotels over the years, and I'm sure many people reading this feel the same way, but I will no longer frequent any of the hotels owned by The Dorchester Collection. I implore all of you to stay away as well." And in England, actor-writer Stephen Fry announced to his Twitter followers that he'd just canceled a reservation at Coworth Park, Ascot, another of the Dorchester Collection's properties. Meanwhile, the rival Four Seasons, whose dining room was crowded on a recent morning, reports an uptick in business.
Despite the celebrities who have responded to the call for a boycott, it actually began as a very grassroots affair, albeit a high-end one. On April 21, designer Brian Atwood issued a call on his Instagram account to boycott the Dorchester Collection hotels during the various fashion weeks in Europe. Cameron Silver, co-owner of the Decades boutique in L.A., added his voice, and on April 26, along with Jennifer Howell, who works for fashion-supported charity Art of Elysium, organized a demonstration at the foot of the driveway leading up the Beverly Hills Hotel that attracted about 15 supporters, including actress Beth Grant (The Mindy Project) and actress-musician Rain Phoenix.
"The hotel is part of my youth. I grew up on Foothill Road just down the block, I had my bar mitzvah at the hotel, and I've always recommended it to everyone who comes to L.A.," Cameron says. "My hope is that the board of directors of the Dorchester Collection will honestly admit the connection between the hotels and their owner, the Sultan of Brunei, and express their opposition to this legislation, which has been condemned by the U.N. Even though I've always been a supporter of the property, until then, I'd rather go to the Sunset Tower or the Chateau Marmont."
A version of this story first appeared in the May 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.