In the time before the great Sexodus came to pass, the conversation surrounding workplace sexual harassment was more of a whisper. Compared to the loud shouting it is now. That’s the dilemma of it all. In the last half of the 2000s through the first part of the 2010s, the politics bogged down this issue. The conversation surrounding sexual harassment and women’s rights in the workplace was limited to theoretical dogma. That, or the examples of bad behavior were too far and in-between to make a dent in people’s perceptions. Everyone likes to make their own mind up about things. The optimal solution to that is present them with enough substantial data to maximize that opportunity for them.
An educated stance is better than ignorance. Even if the person’s opinion is one you disagree with.
Here’s what we had to work with in the pre-Sexodus days.
In the month before Harvey Weinstein’s story first broke, the film critic community had a tremor of similar scandals. Two different cases happened.
The first was the resurfacing of a story that broke last year. Someone by the name of Devin Faraci stepped down as editor-in-chief of a film news and review site because of a sex assault allegation brought forward. His story is worth revisiting here because it serves as a glimpse about how people’s memories might be for the long-term. A possibility of what might come to pass a year down the road for some of the people thrown into the spotlight for their alleged scandals.
The second is Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News, which serves the same purposes as Devin Faraci’s Birth.Movies.Death site he helmed. Knowles and Faraci positioned themselves as reporters and critics of the movie industry. Harry’s case is interesting in the fact that how he reacts to the allegations made against him. In similar shoes as Faraci, women Knowles interacted with in the past revealed his impropriety.
Devin Faraci fessed up almost immediately and accepted the professional consequences to his career. Harry Knowles denied any wrongdoing and went about his work like the news never even happened.
I wish there was a different picture suitable to use here. But the only thing people can recall about Devin Faraci now is this one. This press conference style serious image of him, as if he’s explaining to the public his perspective of some scandal.
Too bad it fits.
I never dreamed this would’ve all began where it ended last. As mentioned earlier, Devin Faraci was the Editor-in-Chief of Birth.Movies.Death until October 2016. His career in the film industry ended when a woman came forward with accusations of sexual assault against him.
I recommend reading my earlier Devin “Gone Too” Faraci medium article for context. But you’re pressed for time. I get it. Devin Faraci was the man in charge of Badass Digest and Birth.Movies.Death. He was the verbose film critic who wasn’t afraid to let his mind loose on a subject. Let that be movies or the people behind them. It all came to a halt when some Twitter user named @spacecrone came forward with an accusation of sexual assault.
Faraci stepped down. People assumed his career was lost in the fallout.
According to Alamo Drafthouse’s Tim League, Faraci had been in recovery and was sober since the 2016 allegations But dust started to pick up again. Brought on by a Facebook post from longtime viewer George Hickman. The Fantastic Fest schedule guide had posts written under Faraci’s name, which many had seen as their subtle attempt to reintroduce him to the mainstream.
To get to the point. People got mad in September 2017 because they realized Devin Faraci was quietly hired back to Alamo Drafthouse. Devin himself admitted he came back in February (responding as Devin Fnord on Facebook).
The problem was the ambiguity of it all. Which is why it seemed best to just cut to the chase so you’re not as confused as people were at the time this all became public.
The statement which Tim League officially put out about Faraci on the 12th of September was taken down for reasons that’ll be clear momentarily. But it was saved multiple times, with this screenshot in particular taken by a person who lamented that Faraci was getting second chances while they were still out there trying to make their first big break.
“Nearly a year ago, sexual misconduct allegations were brought against an Alamo Drafthouse employee, Devin Faraci. Though Devin did not recall the event, he did not doubt the allegations. Instead, he acknowledged the wrong, conveyed his sincere regret, and vowed to make the necessary changes in his life to prevent something like this from ever happening again. Devin took the allegations seriously, as did I, Alamo Drafthouse, and Birth.Movies.Death. As a result, we agreed the only course of action was for him to step down from his role as Editor-in-Chief of Birth.Movies.Death. We needed to make a clean break and change the leadership, and accordingly terminated his employment. Devin has not written for Birth.Movies.Death. since.A culture of sexual harassment and gender inequality persists in our society and specifically within the film industry, and much work remains to fix this problem. By engaging in dialogue about these issues, and by holding people responsible for their actions, we can begin to bridge the gap between where we are now, and where we need to be. Without question, sexual misconduct is impermissible. The question is whether there is any path to redemption, and if so, what that path looks like.Devin has spent the time since this allegation examining the choices he made that led to it. He has recognized and acknowledged his struggles with substance abuse; after stepping down, he immediately entered recovery and has been sober ever since. This is an important step in the right direction.His departure from Birth.Movies.Death meant losing his job, his livelihood, his career, and his place in the film community, but Devin has started the work to rebuild himself first with the understanding that all else is secondary. Seeing the work that Devin has been doing to acknowledge his faults, to address his addiction, and to better himself, I thought it was important to contribute to his recovery process by helping him with some means to earn a living. Once it became clear that his efforts were sincere, I offered Devin copywriting work at Alamo Drafthouse and have recently expanded that to include writing blurbs for our Fantastic Fest festival guide. He does not hold any leadership position at Alamo Drafthouse or Fantastic Fest and is not involved with Birth.Movies.Death. in any capacity.I understand there’s some discomfort with the idea that Devin is once again employed by the Alamo Drafthouse. However, I am very much an advocate for granting people second chances, and I believe that Devin deserves one. He continues to confront his issues and to better himself with the help of his friends and family. I am proud to consider myself a part of this process.Human beings make mistakes, and when they acknowledge those mistakes and embark upon a journey of personal improvement, they deserve forgiveness. If, god forbid, I somehow find myself in a similar place down the road, my hope is that my actions up until this point have warranted others to offer the same help to me.”
League starts out his statement by laying out the facts. Alamo Drafthouse, Birth.Movies.Death. and all the management involved took it seriously. Tim recognizes the culture of sexual harassment that exists. In Devin’s case, League says that Faraci recognizes his personal struggles with alcoholism and entered recovery. By the 4th paragraph, Tim reveals that Devin had been doing copywriting work on the side just to make ends meet. His hope was that the public would go for the “we’re all flawed humans who deserve forgiveness” approach.
They did not.
Some people felt deceived that Tim League was hiding this right in front of their eyes. As seen here with this picture of Faraci taken with a work badge only a few months following the 2016 allegations. One analysis said that Tim League used passive language distancing Faraci from his actions, in an attempt to keep the man’s honor. Another person called it a “poorly kept local secret.” Another accuser revealed their own encounter with Faraci to Tim League last year and was asked to keep it private.
It’s strange. Seeing a piece I wrote in 2016 being strong enough with its content to take on a second life a year later. All I did was lay the situation out as it was. I didn’t force people to read it, nor did I force them to take Faraci’s past into consideration when reacting to the news surrounding him.
People were still pissed off though. Gauging by the reactions on social media, you’d be fooled into believing it all happened yesterday. Rather than months ago (initially). It’s worth pointing out that this was in part because people were led to think Faraci faced a more permanent punishment. That’s what they wanted to happen, too. Something more than a few months break. It’s not my place to judge what ramifications Devin “deserves.” People weren’t convinced he had changed at all, either. The bottom line here though was people felt bamboozled by Alamo Drafthouse, and that Devin still didn’t deserve a platform like that.
What does rehabilitation back into public life look like?
It was enough of a debacle that on the morning of September 13th Fantastic Fest’s international programming director Todd Brown parted ways with Drafthouse over it.
Brown made his resignation letter public. In the opening paragraph alone you can Todd’s disappointment.
“For the past eleven years I have been proud to be a part of the Fantastic Fest team and – by extension – a part of the Alamo Drafthouse family. For more than a decade Fantastic Fest has been a key element of my personal identity and a community that I was proud to have had a hand in building. Many of my closest friendships have been forged at Fantastic Fest and I have been privileged to work with a host of immensely talented people who have become more than colleagues – they are my confidants, my tribe, a sort of surrogate family spanning the globe. And so it was a very emotional decision to part ways with Fantastic Fest earlier today, a fact made even more emotionally difficult by the sad fact that it was not difficult at all. It was essential.”
“Anyone who has ever suggested that Fantastic Fest and the Drafthouse is just the geek friendly equivalent of the classic Old Boys Club, you have just been proven correct. We have just seen that Club in action. There it is, the Club utterly ignoring the victim while it creates a protective ring around the perpetrator. Telling every woman who has ever been harassed or assaulted that the predatory males around them will be protected if they are a part of the Club. Telling every woman that the Sad Man whose life is a shambles because of his own actions deserves help and support in putting himself back together while she deserves … nothing.”
Evening of September 13th. Alamo publishes the following.
The decision to bring Devin back on board was reversed within 48 hours. Faraci agreed to part ways with Alamo Drafthouse permanently. Meaning at least he wouldn’t try this “comeback tour” stunt again.
It was by now that @spacecrone directly addressed their stance on this. They said last year Tim League called her personally and told them they were removing Devin from staff. She specifies she didn’t ask for this but thought it was a good idea when brought up. This year @spacecrone was as surprised as anyone else when they saw Tim League’s recent letter revealing Faraci’s rehiring. She felt lied to for the sake of a PR scheme. “Sloppy” is the word @spacecrone uses. League and her email back and forth, and her final thought is Tim really loves Devin Faraci. But the reality is Devin hurt people, and this was contributing to a hostile atmosphere where women were uncomfortable with discussing these matters.
Faraci too would speak out. This was done by the morning of the 14th in a letter that was briefly published to medium, before being taken down shortly after.
“After eleven months of silence and many people speaking for and about me, I figured it was time to speak for myself.
In October of last year a woman (it’s not my place to name her) came forward to accuse me of groping her in 2003. I don’t remember the incident, but I know that I have been a blackout drinker. Faced with this serious accusation I had only one choice: believe the woman making the claim and accept personal responsibility. I felt that the morally correct action was to remove myself from my position and my world and to be quiet.
Over the course of my life I have hurt people. While this experience was not the first time I had people telling me how awful I was (I had made a career of it), it was the first time I truly faced how much I needed to change. I am not the man I was in 2003, and I am not the man I was in October. I take personal responsibility for all my actions and decisions, positive and negative, and I have begun the work of understanding the conditions that led me to take those actions, and to untie the knots of pain and fear that made me, frankly, an asshole.
Recovery and therapy introduced me to mindfulness meditation and a new spirtuality (that I won’t get into here because it’s just going to read as phony and hokey) that has allowed me to start the hard work of making myself a better person. As I continue that work I look forward to making amends — at the proper time as dictated by a 12 step program — to those I’ve hurt. I’m not there yet, but it’s coming.
I have spent the last eleven months lying low and focusing on my recovery and spirituality. A few months into my recovery I was given the chance to do low-level copy-writing as a way to keep my rent paid as I continued the journey. Now circumstances have arisen that leave me unemployed and back in the news.
I can tell you what I won’t do next: I won’t drink about this. My sobriety remains my rock. I am not a victim here. I accept and embrace this challenging new stage of my life, because change is the only constant in this world. I will continue the endless journey of making myself a better person. I accept the karma I have created and must continue to work through. I know that no matter how far down the scale I have gone, my experience can be of benefit to others. I meet all with love and kindness because I refuse to submit to darkness. I will use my life and my talents in service of others.
These are hard days for everyone. I am sorry to have made them harder for anyone, especially survivors of sexual abuse and assault who have had to relive traumas because of headlines and tweets about me.
If you are struggling with alcohol or drugs, there is a fellowship that exists to help you.
It is in your power to be a better person. You can begin today, right now, this instant. Do not wait, like I did, until your whole life falls apart.
Believe women. Especially when they’re talking about you.
May you be happy, safe and at peace.”
What we’re left with is exactly where things were when they started. A flustered @spacecrone and a remorseful Faraci trying to move on or better themselves in recovery. Devin admits that Alamo Drafthouse signed him back on a few months after his incident to help him pay rent. That mention alone is probably why the letter was taken down. I don’t think Faraci has any personal shame left to lose at this point.
We’ll see where Alamo Drafthouse stands in all this later on.
The Daily Beast published a previously unknown encounter that a female film journalist had with Faraci.
“A source who requested anonymity told The Daily Beast that Faraci’s misogynistic modus operandi was well-known within the larger film community.
She told The Daily Beast that she and Faraci—both film journalists at the time—“both went to the set of [REDACTED] for our respective outlets and as usual, the studio wined and dined us.” She recalled, ‘Somehow, Faraci and I ended up stumbling around the last bar together, everyone was drifting back, and Faraci said we needed to go back too. He kept complimenting me, something came up about my not having a boyfriend, and he stopped me in front of the hotel and kissed me. I think he stopped and kissed me a few times. I was VERY drunk, so I can’t say it was entirely consensual. I know I wanted out of the situation… Something finally came to in my brain and I politely excused myself, pointing out he had a girlfriend and it was not something I would do.'”
The aftermath of that was Faraci unfollowing the woman on Twitter and totally phasing her out of his life. It underlines the domineering and predatory nature of Devin that he was known for in the years leading up to October 2016. What happened to him and Caroline @spacecrone on Twitter was just breaking the illusion of public legitimacy Faraci wielded.
On September 15th, Variety posted an exclusive scoop about the film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” pulling out of Fantastic Fest.
“‘In light of recent events, the makers of ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,’ have decided not to participate in Fantastic Fest,’ a Searchlight rep said in a statement when reached for comment. The studio would not comment further.”
A snowball began that week. The initial momentum force spurred on by this small incident with Alamo Drafthouse and Faraci had cracked Hollywood’s blinders once and for all. Nobody fully understood that yet at the time.
But the end of Faraci was the beginning of the end for Harry Knowles of Aint It Cool News. To clarify, Harry was basically a pillar of the film critic community. Little did the world know that pillar was the dark and disgusting underside of that world.
September 21st. Harry Knowles tells IndieWire via phone call that Aint It Cool News wasn’t going to sponsor Alamo Drafthouse’ Fantastic Fest film festival. The reason he gave at the time was it didn’t feel right because of the Devin Faraci controversy. Responding to the claims of a Boys Club in the Alamo Drafthouse, Harry seemed clueless. He played himself off as the married guy in a wheelchair who works all the time. Knowles made it appear as if he had no idea what Todd Brown was talking about.
But on the other side of his rationale was something more ominous. Knowles admits to IndieWire that he stepped back because of accusations made against him personally.
“There was a rumor about me and an ex-girlfriend that felt ugly,” he told IndieWire. “They’re a complete fabrication and lie.”
Those words came back to haunt him. On the afternoon of September 23rd, Harry Knowles tweets out this.
“There’s a story coming about me that is 100% untrue. I was this person’s friend and confidant. I wish her nothing but the best. But untrue”
Normally this happens when someone gets a request for comment and they don’t exactly like the story they got asked about.
This was one of those times. An hour later, Kate Erbland of Indiewire published an exposé on Harry Knowles. Hot off the Devin Faraci incident, more fire would come down on Alamo Drafthouse after the head of Aint It Cool News is accused of inappropriate behavior.
Jasmine Baker accused Harry Knowles of sexually assaulting her during Alamo Drafthouse events back in 1999-2000. It was done on multiple occasions. The first time, Jasmine just wrote it off as an accident. But he did it again later on. That time, she confronted him about it. He just laughed. Jasmine says Harry also put his hand under her shirt at one point. The Indiewire reporter spoke to Baker’s friends who backed up her account. Knowles denies this behavior, saying he and Baker were friends until 2002. Jasmine later went on to work for Alamo Drafthouse for 4 years and even told Tim League and his wife about the incident with Harry. They were reportedly horrified but didn’t know how to respond either. Tim League and Knowles would go on to co-found Fantastic Fest in 2005.
People got pissed off on social media again. Of course. Beyond the one–on–one approach, folks lumped Knowles together with Faraci. Some compared and contrasted the two. It could’ve been due to the fact both men were involved with Alamo in some way.
On the 25th Aint It Cool News writer Eric Vespe posted his resignation letter to Twitter. He, along with two other staff members, were stepping down as a result of the allegations brought forward against Harry Knowles. Vespe was a part of the website for 20 years. This decision didn’t come lightly.
By the 26th, Tim League put out a statement addressing the Knowles matter.
“I’ve been reflecting on twenty years of decisions as a business owner. In the early days, Karrie and I conferred on all tough decisions, and we always tried to do the right thing. To this day, the core value of the company is just that, the simple principle to always “do the right thing.” Recent perspective has made it clear that we didn’t always do the right thing, despite what we thought were good intentions. To the women we have let down, Karrie and I both sincerely apologize.
We’re now a big company with over 4,500 employees. We have over a million guests come through our doors every month. Now we have a great HR team and are a vastly better company than we were in the mom and pop days.
I’m currently writing this update from a hotel room in Kansas City. As many of you know, I decided to skip Fantastic Fest this year. I feel that the most important thing I can do right now is to travel to all of our theaters, talk with our staff and listen. I’ve hosted 12 sessions so far and there are many more scheduled for the next three weeks all over the country. As much as I’d like to be at the event, I need to be with our staff and lead a positive path forward for the company.
On the festival front, in light of recent events and feedback we have gotten over the last few days, we have taken some first steps on the path to listening and ensuring that we create a safe, inclusive environment for our staff at both the theater and the festival as well as the community at large. I’ll be sharing more about this in the days and weeks to come.
Moving forward, we have severed all ties with Harry Knowles and he is no longer affiliated with the company in any capacity. We are striving to better respond to allegations of sexual assault and harassment, and will take actions so those who work at the theater or attend as a guest are not made to feel unsafe.
The festival is actively working on building out a new Board of Directors whose focus will be to further enhance and refine the experience of the festival; nurture and provide more opportunities for young genre filmmakers; and provide the best, most open and inclusive environment for this unique film community. This board will be run by the festival’s Executive Director, Kristen Bell, and should be finalized and announced shortly.
The festival team has spent the last five days talking to badgeholders and gathering feedback on ways the festival can be better. We’ve made real-time changes to the festival this year and will also be sending out a post-event survey to all badgeholders to collect further feedback on how we should improve and grow. We greatly appreciate all the feedback we have received so far, both positive and negative, as it continues to give us a wider, better perspective on the future of the festival.
At the festival and at the theater, we are committed to providing a safe and welcoming environment for all of our staff and guests, and I am committed to the work ahead to ensure that goal.
In a sense, this letter wasn’t just speaking of the Knowles situation. Rather it explores the Alamo Drafthouse as a community entity stuck in the middle of this ordeal. In both cases here, this was true. They rehired Devin Faraci and failed to take action against Harry.
It’s worth noting the misconception of “two sides” to every story here. It isn’t just the perpetrator and the victim. Rather, it’s them plus the shared environment they both co-habit for a particular period time. One which allows violating behaviors to take place. I’m not one to entirely damn Alamo Drafthouse either. Even though after my Faraci piece I was mysteriously blocked by a majority of their staff. Regardless, I still see the human element that Tim League was referring to in his initial letter back during Faraci’s attempted return. But there’s a right way and wrong way to do things. Having people discover Faraci’s name crop up in the Fantastic Fest program for themselves is certainly an easy way to get the public pissed off at a company. I’m not surprised they had a PR team involved in damage control.
Later that day IndieWire needed two pages to release their follow-up. The scandal brought more people out of the woodwork to speak, as four more women came forward with accusations against Harry. Gloria Walker wrote on Twitter “On more than one occasion HK has grabbed my ass and other parts of me. I just learned to not go within grabbing distance of him.” Her story involved seeing Captain America back in 2011 at an Aint It Cool News sponsored screening at the Alamo Drafthouse in South Lamar. Walker tried contacting Knowles, and reportedly he said he’d get her in for a kiss. Walker did not agree to this but Harry put her on the list anyway. She hugged him when she saw him. Later on, Knowles grabbed her ass and thighs as she was walking by at a Halloween party. Before she could even react, Knowles was already laughing at something else, pretending it didn’t even happen. ScreenCrush Associate Editor and Writer Britt Hayes also came forward with their own story. “Harry sexually harassed me. he has sexually harassed other women in this community for years. this wasn’t an anomaly. he is a predator,” they said. Attending a “Butt-Numb-a-Thon” 24-hour movie marathon in 2011, she was unsure that next year if she wanted to participate again. Contacting her on Twitter, Harry said the real way to get into BNAT was “show me your tits.” While Hayes managed to unfollow him, Knowles was still in the same community as her so there were uncomfortable run-ins. A third female film writer named “sick__66” had been harassed by Knowles on Twitter. They never met in person, but the Twitter direct messages they exchanged show an uncomfortable atmosphere. He leveraged his connections to Guillermo del Toro, Kevin Smith, and Peter Jackson. Harry came onto her saying she could have his “vienna [sic] sausage anytime.” A fourth case happened to Alamo Drafthouse employee Jill Lewis. During Fantastic Fest at the Highball bar, Harry grabbed her arm. Telling Jill he was high on mushrooms, before proposing that she get naked in front of Knowles and his wife.
Instead of publicly apologizing for the allegations made against him, Knowles took a different approach to their situation than Faraci did to his own. Harry announced he was going to take a leave of absence from his site. For “therapy, detox, and getting to a better place,” according to him. In the interim, Knowles was going to have a replacement. That afternoon Harry announced he was teaching his sister how to run the website. There were allegations that Knowles was ghostwriting in this arrangement, but those were quickly addressed as the result of this transition phase.
An in-depth article on The Wrap traces the rise and fall of Harry Knowles. One of the authors was a contributor to the site, giving them an insider’s understanding of Aint It Cool News history. This sexual assault allegation controversy wasn’t something that caused Knowles to “fall from grace.” According to sources TheWrap spoke to, that had already happened slowly over the course of the past decade.
The proud early days of Aint It Cool News happened because Harry Knowles ignored the boundaries of traditional media as it was in the 1990s. His story began in 1994 when he bought a computer with the insurance money Harry received after his mom died in a fire. The following year, Knowles tripped on a hose while he was in the middle of setting up for some of collectibles sale. Spending months confined to bed, Aint It Cool News was born out of necessity for Knowles to carve a path for his future. The breaking away from traditional media protocols that made him a success were a quality that came about because of that. To stand out from the rest, Aint It Cool News got stories from leakers on film sets and members of test audiences that got early looks at upcoming movies.
In 2002, John Patterson of the Guardian released a piece revealing the growing flaws and gaps in Harry Knowles website empire. He had insider information on Harry because one of the ghostwriters in Knowles auto-biography was also a friend of Patterson’s. John calls out Harry for blowing his load too early. He tells readers that Knowles has been accused of being easily influenced by producers. All in all, eroding his credibility with the public.
As the years went by, other websites were catching up to a more modernized reporting style (think how Entertainment Weekly does coverage these days), and Knowles got lazy.
Slashfilm.com founder Peter Sciretta told TheWrap: “Harry got pulled in other directions. He wanted to produce movies and he wanted to make TV shows. … I think he spent more time trying to do those things while the staff minded the store.”
Harry doing other projects while failing to maintain his core business proper did some damage. TheWrap mentions Aint It Cool News staff being mistreated by one of the managers, Roland De Noie. Harry didn’t understand the ramifications of Roland’s alleged ignorance in responsibility with things like tax paperwork.
Which in turn was all a part of the slow burn of Aint It Cool News.