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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

After Allegations Of Exploiting Young Women, Former Cinefamily Employees Describe a Hostile Work Environment [Updated]

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On Tuesday morning, an encrypted email from the unknown sender “501 Cinefamily Think” began to circulate among the Los Angeles film community. The email accuses Shadie Elnashai, the VP of the Board of Directors at the nonprofit movie organization Cinefamily, and Hadrian Belove, executive managing director of Cinefamily, of assaulting and abusing younger, female members of the staff.

“Shadie and Hadrian exploit the eagerness of young female hopefuls to feed their own sexual needs,” the email reads. “These are not the only illegal activities this non profit organization engages in, but they are the most inexcusable.”

The email also includes snapshots from legal documents of a 2014 lawsuit against Cinefamily and Belove. The plaintiff, Christina Poppy, a former employee of Cinefamily, describes repeated sexual harassment (“pimping her out” to a wealthy donor, made to sleep in the same bed as Belove during a trip to Sundance Film Festival) in legal documents obtained by Jezebel.

According to court documents filed to the Superior Court of California County of Los Angeles, Poppy alleged that in May of 2014, Belove attacked her in a public place when she wasn’t paying enough attention to him, kicked her violently two times, stomped on her foot, pushed her and told her she’d lose her job at Cinefamily. When she reported this to Cinefamily, who had no sexual harassment policy at the time according to court documents, the company reportedly told her it was “her fault” and that she should make her own plan to ensure her safety in the workplace.

The lawsuit was settled in March 2015, but court documents show Poppy filed a second complaint for breach of the settlement agreement in May of that year, claiming that Belove had made disparaging comments about her to a potential employer. This agreement was then settled in March 2016.

On Tuesday night Cinefamily announced that Elnashai and Belove had resigned. The organization’s statement, signed by “The Cinefamily,” reads in part:

Our non-profit organization has zero tolerance for any action intended to harm or injure our staff, volunteers, or patrons. Any claims made are dealt with swiftly and directly, with respect and moral integrity. In the two years since the appointment of our Executive Managing Director, Trevor Jones, we have received one harassment claim. That claim was of a non-violent nature, and was investigated thoroughly.

Karina Chacham, who volunteered at Cinefamily from 2010 to 2016, told Jezebel she’s not very enthusiastic about the announcement considering how, she says, the organization has handled these allegations in the past. When allegations that Elnashai assaulted a staff member first emerged in late 2016, Cinefamily allegedly said he was off the board—which did not last long, according to Chacham. “I didn’t even know if [the removal] was real,” she says.

The announcement also said that Cinefamily was working with the Officer Russel Hess of the Wilshire Precinct, LAPD on the allegations. Hess, who actually works in the West Bureau and is not available at the phone number Cinefamily listed in their announcement, was not immediately available for comment. Jezebel has reached out and will update this post if he responds.

In a statement posted to Belove’s personal Facebook, he writes that the allegations in the initial email were false. “The email sent around were sent from an anonymous address, full of demonstrable lies and half-truths, and allegations without known victims—and we believe with motive to do as much damage as possible,” he writes. “To be clear: no one has ever a reported rape, or a crime of any kind reported before now. This is a flat out lie.”

In several interviews, former employees and volunteers of Cinefamily told Jezebel that Belove and Elnashai’s reputation with staff reached beyond that one complaint. The nonprofit, which gave the appearance of being an indie, inclusive institution for movie-lovers, was not as progressive behind the scenes. Interviews with former Cinefamily employees reveal a poorly managed workplace where job titles were arbitrary, staff members were underpaid or working overtime without compensation, and inappropriate physical contact and comments from Belove were common and openly accepted.

Mario Munoz, who worked at Cinefamily as an event producer the same time the plaintiff named in the lawsuit was working at the organization, told Jezebel that Belove openly enjoyed having an office full of women, particularly pretty, young women. “During my time there I heard nothing but talks about [how we need more] young, hot girls,” Munoz says of Belove.

“The feminists at Cinefamily, they’re like the ‘Roman Polanski to Sharon Tate’ feminists. They love a wild girl, a ’60s type girl, who will get naked and listen to them talk about film—the ingenue-type thing,” says Hayley Pogue, who worked at Cinefamily from 2013 to 2014 as an assistant to Munoz and says that because of her appearance as a “plus-sized brunette” Belove didn’t think she was worth talking to. “It was really hard to get eye contact or respect the whole time I worked there.”

“It’s like [Belove] made Cinefamily to try and make a cult where he could fuck every girl that came in,” Chacham says.

Elle O’Brien, who worked at Cinefamily from 2015 to 2017 and left as a senior theater manager, details a workplace where higher-ups did not want to protect their staff.

O’Brien describes another manager who received inappropriate and flirtatious photos and texts from a paying member of Cinefamily. (Membership exists in tiers of different levels of donation, $100 per three months to $5000 per year, and comes with access to members-only screenings, special events and more.) When the manager sent an email out to staff about how she kicked him out of the theater, O’Brien says she backed her up, publicly replying to the thread that the man in question made women uncomfortable. But later, she says she was reprimanded by Belove and Executive Managing Director Trevor Jones, who told her she had been acting inappropriately. They told her that the man in question was a valued member and plus, Belove told O’Brien, the other manager frequently came in complaining about men making comments to her on the street and “wasn’t this just typical?”

“Trevor Jones didn’t allow things to be brought up,” O’Brien says in reference to Cinefamily’s statement. “He was more of: we get on top of this situation and it goes away.”

Trevor Jones, who is still the current executive managing director of Cinefamily, told Jezebel via email that this allegation is unequivocally false. “My interest in any claim is to investigate the claim thoroughly,” he wrote. “After the conclusion of the investigation, once as many details can be gathered, action is taken.”

According to one employee, Belove treated the theater like “a personal dating service.” Pogue alleges she saw Belove engaging in sex with a volunteer at a film premiere in 2014. Chacham says she saw him engaging in oral sex with a volunteer at a birthday party for an employee, at which co-workers were in attendance. According to multiple employees, Belove was also reportedly “very threatened” by the presence of other men, including boyfriends of staffers.

A young female employee who left Cinefamily last year and chooses to remain anonymous told Jezebel that while Belove never took advantage of her sexually, he was repeatedly an inappropriate boss. If she did something he “didn’t like” or was on her day off, she says, she’d back come to a phone that had “maybe 5o or 60 texts that said ‘DO THIS, DO THAT’ in all caps.”

“Whenever an employee under Hadrian has success he doesn’t celebrate it, he takes it personally as an attack against him,” she says. “Especially if it was a young woman. Any time I did something well he’d criticize me or put me down.”

Munoz says Belove was also prone to fits of anger during which he could “terrify the shit out of someone... I’ve seen it where he hits a point where its almost like he blacks out.” Munoz says he’s been violently grabbed and yelled at by Belove himself. “He’s made plenty of women cry that were staff members,” says Munoz, “but he’s a very smart person and does many of these things behind closed doors.”

Pogue recounts a time when she was ushering and Belove got angry at her for an unexplained reason and cornered her up against a wall. Another time, when she said she didn’t know how to make coffee, Belove grabbed her by the arm and led her by force (“like a child”) to the coffee machine to angrily pantomime how to make it for him.

“It was more of a current of weird shit, more than it was this instance and this instance,” O’Brien says.

Many employees, who worked largely for free or for minimum wage, tell Jezebel they did so because of Cinefamily’s allure, with volunteer and job opportunities frequently described to Jezebel as an invitation into a cool, “clandestine” club.

“Cinefamily was a place with a lot of magic accompanied by no shortage of toxicity and sexism,” says another former staffer who chooses to remain anonymous.

“I loved my job, I put everything into my job, and I was very happy with it,” Munoz says. “But it’s also one of the most damaging times I’ve ever had in my life. It’s like a cult.”

Jones confirms in an email that Elnashai and Belove have resigned and are no longer with the organization. Commenting on the allegations in this piece, Jones says he was not aware of Belove physically touching people, having sex with volunteers, or asking staff members to hire “hot women.” Other than the complaint brought forward by Christina Poppy, Jones says he is “not aware of any complaint of assault by either Shadie or Hadrian.”

Jezebel has reached out to Hadrian Belove and Shadie Elnashai for comment. We will update this post when they respond.

Update 8/25/17: In a phone call with Jezebel officer Russel Hess says that earlier this week representatives of Cinefamily asked him for the procedures for reporting sexual assault crimes. He explained how to file a report and gave them his contact information. “We have no active investigations involving Cinefamily to my knowledge,” he says.

Update 8/24/17: Hadrian Belove has responded to the allegations in this piece. Via Facebook message, he told Jezebel: “Mostly lies and distortions. Disgraceful.”

Correction: A previous version of this article implied that Mario Munoz said both Belove and Elnashai enjoyed having an office full of young women; that statement only applies to Belove. Munoz was also quoted as saying he heard talks about “hiring” young hot girls; rather, he says he was told he needed to recruit young hot girls as volunteers.

Correction: An earlier version of this identified the film Hayley Pogue saw Belove having sex at in 2014 was Tusk. After publication Pogue says she may have misremembered and the film could have been Harmontown because the screenings were “three days apart.”