Group Threatens to Break Wal-Mart Over Gay Western

Discussion
Apr 04, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


It is not the only retailer selling or renting Brokeback Mountain, but it is the largest and, as a result, Wal-Mart has been singled out by a conservative Christian organization for what it says is the company’s promotion of the gay lifestyle.


The American Family Association (AFA) began a campaign last week asking its three million members to contact Wal-Mart and ask it not to stock the film about a love affair between two ranchers, according to the Los Angeles Times.


Wal-Mart has been actively promoting the film’s release in its stores, including placing ads for the movie at the front of some stores.


Tandy Sharp, director of special projects for the AFA, said Wal-Mart was pushing a homosexual agenda. “It wasn’t even a blockbuster movie, so if Wal-Mart isn’t trying to push an agenda, why would they put it at the front door?”


Wal-Mart spokesperson Jolanda Stewart said, “The fact that we are offering the movie is not an endorsement of the content of the movie or any specific belief. We simply offer the latest titles that consumers want.”


Brokeback Mountain tallied $83 million in domestic box office sales and was nominated for several Academy Awards. The film won in the Best Director category.


AFA’s Sharp maintains that, by stocking the film, Wal-Mart is “trying to help normalize homosexuality in society. How many copies are they going to have to sell to recruit the losses of customers who they’ve offended and will no longer shop at Wal-Mart?”


This is not the first time the AFA has exerted pressure on Wal-Mart to drop a product. In 2003, the group was successful in getting the retailer to remove magazines it considered too sexual, such as FHM, Maxim and Stuff, from store racks. Other magazines, such as Cosmopolitan, were covered with plastic shields. 


Moderator’s Comment: If you’re in charge of marketing and merchandising for Wal-Mart, what do you do with Brokeback Mountain? How should Wal-Mart
public relations handle the controversy over the company’s decision to sell the film?

George Anderson – Moderator

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24 Comments on "Group Threatens to Break Wal-Mart Over Gay Western"


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Steven Davidson
Guest
Steven Davidson
14 years 11 months ago

I agree with the comment that Wal-Mart is not a “church.” They are a part of the retail industry and offer an item that appeals to consumers…period. If the American Family Association doesn’t like it, they don’t need to shop there, plain and simple! This is coming from the same group that says not to shop at a grocery store that utilizes biometric technology for “electronic wallets” because it is the “sign of the beast.” The American Family Association needs to worry about their own message that they are portraying in the community, and not the marketing directives of their local Wal-Mart.

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 11 months ago

I was just reading one of the new books about Wal-Mart from the library. In the book it says that some of Wal-Mart’s best customers are those who dislike the company. In fact, they shop more often that those who love Wal-Mart. So if I’m Wal-Mart, I would sell the movie. Those who are complaining will probably still be good customers of Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has to keep in mind it has a lot of gay customers and a lot of gay managers and employees. I doubt Wal-Mart will back down from this.

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
14 years 11 months ago

I’m not an expert on Wal-Mart’s primary customer’s demographics but it appears that the religious groups are some of their most vocal. You would think that they might have learned something from their previous experiences with these groups but apparently not. Even carrying this movie would have caused a reaction but prominently displaying it with signage is just asking for problems in my opinion. I was curious as to how Wal-Mart would treat this movie and I am surprised that they chose to promote it. I doubt that they will enjoy their decision to do so.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
14 years 11 months ago

Wal-Mart’s function is to sell stuff and make money for its shareholders in doing so. They are not there to push social agendas (either the gay community’s or AFA’s). Wal-Mart should sell the movie and, if they believe active promotion is beneficial, they should actively promote its availability.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
14 years 11 months ago

No one has said that Wal-Mart is pushing a violent lifestyle when it sells all the action films with mayhem and destruction. If Wal-Mart chose films to sell on the basis of what lifestyle it wanted to push and that all their consumers approved of, there would be precious few films on their shelves.

Ron Margulis
Guest
14 years 11 months ago

I would leave it to the store managers to address this issue. Certain markets won’t have great sales anyway, so why be a rabble rouser? In other areas, where the AFA doesn’t have an impact, and where sales are likely to be more robust, stock it with the rest of the R-rated DVDs. This is also how they should handle the PR issue – If we (Wal-Mart) forecast there will be a demand for the movie in a market based on past sales and our manager’s intuition, we will stock it in our stores. If the market or the managers tell us the consumers don’t want it, it will be out of the store on the next truck.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 11 months ago

Any retailer selling entertainment (books, videos, games, toys, magazines, newspapers) experiences controversy over its merchandise selection. Everything not selected can result in the “censorship” accusation. Everything selected can result in the “motivation” accusation. Best thing about the controversies: the publicity is free and helps sell more product since many people want to know what the shouting is all about. In a few weeks, public focus will move on to other topics. Generally the accusers have minimal economic traction. Has Disney cried the blues over the anti-gay boycott? Did Penney’s sales materially suffer from the NAACP boycott? Where will Wal-Mart shoppers go that has the same low prices and convenience without any possible signals relating to things that might offend antigay bigots? Last time I looked, other discount stores sell books, magazines, and videos, too.

Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 11 months ago

My feelings are essentially the same as Ron’s. If Wal-Mart can do store-specific sets on grape juice, they can tailor the promotion of this movie accordingly, also. As for the Taliban-like reaction of some groups, I’d ignore it. It takes all kinds….

Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 11 months ago

I’m with Ron and Warren on this one – shame on Wal-Mart for not letting individual managers exercise some judgment in how much promotion they do. I’m also with the person who pointed out that the publicity is probably not doing them any overall harm; one could almost cynically guess that it’s all for the sake of PR. As for freedom of choice, why don’t the protesters ever learn that it works two ways? If they were to win and the film was taken out of the stores, Wal-Mart could well lose far more customers and sales than they would be annoying a few loudmouthed bigots.

John Rand
Guest
John Rand
14 years 11 months ago
If WMT is ever going to break out of its narrow small-town roots, broaden its appeal in diverse urban markets, and be seen as a positive citizen in places like California, then something like this is their perfect opportunity. If they made a strong, definitive statement in response saying that they are committed to carrying items of general interest, that they are opposed to censorship in retailing, and that their position as the largest single retailer means they must be respectful of the desires of every segment of the population, that those who disagree with a book or movie or magazine have a right to move on and not purchase but no right to control the purchases of others – it would put their situation 10 years or more ahead of where it is. I doubt this will happen. Instead they will waffle, go silent, ignore, or, if it gets serious and long-term, knuckle under to the aggressive culture warriors of their original constituency – and further confirm for many others that Target is the… Read more »
Doug Fleener
Guest
14 years 11 months ago

If I was in charge of marketing and merchandising for Wal-Mart, I would get my resume updated and try to move over to Target. It seems to be a heck of a lot easier being the number two discount retailer in America. If it isn’t Brokeback Mountain it’s the morning after pill. If it isn’t the morning after pill it’s music or magazines. When you’re the number one retailer in the world you have a big target on your back and every group who wants to make point, and get free press to book, is coming after you. What’s next, force the removal of the Elton John CD’s and Rock Hudson movies? After updating my resume I would continue to sell the movie at the lowest price and remind myself that this too shall pass.

Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
14 years 11 months ago

Are we not in the greatest democracy in the world?

Or did I miss something!

Yes, everyone can express their views, but don’t step on my freedom of choice, or Wal-Mart’s right to sell – in its view, appropriate or not – products.

One should never ask a “big brother” to lead us, or dictate what is right or wrong. Someone upstairs, with all the respect possible, gave us a mind! Hmmmmmmm

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
14 years 11 months ago

Who can do what today without some one or some organization taking offense and then clamoring about it? Wal-Mart is in business to sell stuff. If Brokeback Mountain is stuff of the season, sell it. There are few things today that don’t rile somebody. So, Wal-Mart, keep concentrating on selling stuff…at “always low price.”

Gary Pembrook
Guest
Gary Pembrook
14 years 11 months ago

Enough! Although not unexpected…the AFA asking Wal-Mart to boycott “Brokeback Mountain.” Maybe some religious groups did not like “The Passion of the Christ” (I thought it was very distorted and not well done). However, a retailer has a right to sell what they choose and if groups don’t want to buy it, they don’t have too. Wal-Mart is not a church – it is a marketplace.

Jay Ross
Guest
Jay Ross
14 years 11 months ago

Why would there be any difference in the treatment of “Brokeback Mountain” than there was for other controversial movies such as “Passion of the Christ” or others? Controversial movies get people talking; that’s why they’re made. Truth is, plain vanilla movies won’t sell a lot of copies and everyone in America is entitled to have access to what they wish to view as long as it isn’t illegal. It isn’t Wal-Mart’s job to be the conscience of America, just to sell merchandise that people want. They also sell guns and birth control items in plain sight and there are plenty of people who have issues with those. These people are trying to censor rights afforded to all of us under the Constitution.

Marcia Bennett
Guest
Marcia Bennett
14 years 11 months ago
In light of current trends, one has to wonder in what country we are living. This is AMERICA, folks. We are the hallmark around the world of “freedom.” Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of CHOICE. Being a former retailer, it is incumbent upon the retailer to offer to its consumers all available options to purchase; not only to avoid discriminating but to compete in a VERY competitive environment. Offering any material for sale does not in any way reflect on the stand of the retailer. I walk through many stores and am not happy about some of the items I see for sale. (I come from an era where condoms were sold “behind” the counter, not on a display ON the counter like candy. Is it necessary to launch a campaign against it? NO! Make the CHOICE to keep walking and move to the next checkout.) If you watch an Academy Award nominated movie, does that constitute an acceptance of a lifestyle, or is it JUST PLAIN ENTERTAINMENT? Groups like this should keep… Read more »
Catherine Sleep
Guest
Catherine Sleep
14 years 11 months ago

The irony here, as ever, is that the film, as those who have seen it will know, does anything but glamourise or advocate a gay lifestyle. If anything it portrays what a horribly tough life homosexuals can have and would probably serve as a jolly good deterrent if these things were really a matter of choice. I reckon that if it got out that Wal-Mart wouldn’t stock Brokeback Mountain, that would offend just as many people as have been offended by it being stocked. Let shoppers make their own decisions!

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 11 months ago

Although I commented earlier, after reading so many thoughtful comments, I have a further reaction. To those who would leave it up to the local store manager: this might not be fair to the customers or the manager. In some communities, the manager might be subject to personal pressure to display a controversial item or take it off display. And why should some customers be denied the right to buy something just because other shoppers dislike the item? Additionally, Wal-Mart keeps prices low by minimizing its overhead. Additional labor costs for picking and choosing controversial items might make them unprofitable — the censors’ triumph!

Elizabeth Bennett
Guest
Elizabeth Bennett
14 years 11 months ago

Here is a retailing concept. If I were in control of marketing at Wal-Mart, I’d allow store managers the freedom to strategically move their display of Bibles and religious literature adjacent to the Brokeback Mountain Movie Display on a prominent end-cap near the entrance of the store. If they added a sign expanding over both that said, “Buy one, make a statement!” Depending on the location of the store, they would profit either way, since everyone seems to have such a strong opinion on these topics.

Denise Zainea
Guest
Denise Zainea
14 years 11 months ago

My initial reaction to this story is the same as Catherine Sleep’s reaction. Apparently no one from AFA has seen Brokeback Mountain, or they would applaud Wal-Mart for carrying it! In no way does the film promote a homosexual lifestyle, in fact, if it is possible to deter one from the “lifestyle,” this film would be a major catalyst. That having been said, if I were Wal-Mart’s PR counsel, I’d tell them not to worry about a boycott because it would be too small to have an impact. I’d also remind them that the AFA is merely using the company’s status for a free coattail ride to promote its own agenda. No need to play up the controversy, and no need to give it bounce or credibility.

Jeff Lynch
Guest
Jeff Lynch
14 years 11 months ago
Wal-Mart has become the punching bag for advocate groups. Did they try to boycott Harkins or AMC when they were showing the movie? No. I don’t see them lining up in front of Best Buy, Circuit City, Sam Goody, or anyone else selling the movie. Whether you agree with their point of view or not, they go about it the wrong way. Instead of going after the retailer, go after the consumers. If people don’t buy the movie, it won’t be on the shelves very long. Then you got what you want and voiced your opinion in the right channels. You can’t limit the choice for people of different religions or beliefs, as that gets close to a state-mandated religion. You can only hope to influence people. These religious zealots are giving Christians a bad name. This is why people get turned off to religion…they think anyone with a strong faith must be in everyone’s face about it. Not the case. I have a strong faith, and I take offense to these groups misusing their… Read more »
david scanlan
Guest
david scanlan
14 years 11 months ago

A few years back, Wal-Mart would have caved to pressure from the likes of the AFA. With the changes in how Wal-Mart markets today, more all-encompassing and inclusive, they will sell the movie.

The fact is, they will probably sell more copies than any other retailer. Ironically, the AFA’s boycott draws even more attention to a movie that was not a mainstream blockbuster, probably causing some additional sales of the DVD. The more fuss about it, the more interest in it.

Anne Villarreal
Guest
Anne Villarreal
14 years 11 months ago

I think anyone could see this one coming. It could have been better handled as an Academy Best Picture promotion. (i.e. “We have all of the Best Picture nominees available at Wal-Mart.”)The DVDs could have been bundled – or sold separately, but either way, a well written ad might sell more than one DVD.

On the other hand, people may play insulted but they are unlikely, really, to change their shopping habits over Brokeback Mountain. Have you heard of some sales impacting groups of people refusing to go to movie theaters because theater management played Brokeback on one of their screens?

Patrick Cerceo
Guest
Patrick Cerceo
13 years 8 months ago

Was there a similar outcry when “Pretty Woman” was released, for glamorizing prostitution? Or just plain ol’ infidelity when they got “The Bridges of Madison County”? And how many people took up organized crime once they got their copies of “The Godfather”? Too many! And what about the promotion of smoking by stocking and selling cigarettes? If these groups really want to promote values, they should start with pressuring Wal-Mart to stop carrying them! I’m just guessing here, but I think tobacco kills more people than R-rated movies.

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