On August 21 an anonymous email circulated among members of the Los Angeles film community alleging that Cinefamily board vice president Shadie Elnashai and executive director Hadrian Belove took advantage of several young women employees. Shortly after the email circulated, these two men resigned from the film nonprofit.
Last week Jezebel interviewed former employees and volunteers of Cinefamily who alleged that the workplace had a “cult”-like atmosphere in which Belove physically intimidated people who worked there and treated the theater like a “personal dating service.” Now, new evidence details the incidents referenced in the anonymous email and the ways in which harassment complaints were handled at Cinefamily.
Jezebel has learned that there were two versions of the original anonymous email. The first version, which we’ve obtained from a former employee, was sent from an anonymous Gmail address on August 15. The email accuses Shadie Elnashai of assaulting and threatening women who worked for Cinefamily. A former employee of Cinefamily, Melanie Ghaffari, is named in the email as having been allegedly threatened into having sex with Elnashai or else she “would never work again.” In an email to Jezebel, Ghaffari writes that this allegation is false.
“The truths here are that I did work for his company, and did feel uncomfortable multiple times in his presence, but this direct, specific threat was not made to me,” she writes.
Ghaffari writes that she was contacted by Cinefamily on August 17 because of the email, which she had not yet seen firsthand. She tells Jezebel that, when questioned about the claims over the phone by Belove and Oré, she answered truthfully and said that this claim was “false to me in specific.” Ghaffari writes that she did go on and describe to Belove and Oré “the endless stream of daily micro-harassment transpiring in the workspace,” including an incident in which Elnashai wrapped his arm around her “beyond drunk,” before Belove allegedly cut her off and told her that this information was irrelevant to the specific claims.
“What I do know is that these men would not have resigned, and would have continued facilitating a space of complete disarray and potential danger, entirely normalizing and trivializing sexual assault and abuse had this email not been sent out,” Ghaffari writes. “It’s time to reconstruct.”
Simon Oré did not respond to requests for comment.
The second anonymous email, the one that uses similar language and was circulated on August 21 from a Proton Mail address, accuses Elnashai of sexually assaulting women who worked for the theater. None of the former employees we spoke to said that they have been assaulted by Elnashai.
The email also makes reference to an incident in 2016 in which a programmer at Cinefamily allegedly reported these allegations to Belove and Trevor Jones, the executive managing director of the nonprofit:
These young women, Cinefamily volunteers and employees in their teens and early 20s, hoped to start their careers in the entertainment industry. Shadie took them under his wing, offering trips to the Magic Castle and entry-level positions on his sets.
In 2016, one of their programmers reported these assaults to Cinefamily upper management Hadrian Belove - founder/executive director, Trevor Jones - executive managing director (and good friend of Shadie), and Simon Ore - board president. These three men jointly buried the accusation and made it go away. The programmer and other employees who were aware of the situation resigned due to upper management’s dangerous negligence.
William Morris, who was formerly a film programmer at Cinefamily from roughly April 2015 to October 2016 and is named in the first email, tells Jezebel that he was the programmer this email references.
Morris tells Jezebel that after he started working for Cinefamily coworkers and volunteers began to approach him with stories about inappropriate interactions with male staff members. Morris, who was also a theater manager, believes these women approached him because “men [that these women] felt safe to talk to about anything were a rarity.”
At first, Morris says, the reports were “small scale things” such as what he calls “Facebook fishing,” in which men who worked at the theater would reach out to women who worked there on Facebook late at night with a “what’s up.”
But then a coworker told Morris “more sinister” stories regarding Shadie Elnashai. She told Morris that Elnashai would take women out for a night on the town, which included going to Magic Castle and eating “extravagant dinners.” “There were small inferences of pressure that they owed him something in return for these things,” Morris says. “It firmly escalated to the point where one of them said that Shadie would threaten, literally threaten, [that] they wouldn’t get jobs if they did not start to sleep with him.”
Morris also says he witnessed two different incidents around October 2016 when he saw Elnashai drunkenly touch female employees, by putting his arm around their waist or arm, even after they repeatedly asked him to stop.
When approached for comment on the allegations in this article, Shadie Elnashai strenuously denied the allegations of sexual assault. Brett G. Moore, an attorney at Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP acting as legal representation for Elnashai, wrote to Jezebel: “We will vigorously defend Mr. Elnashai’s reputation.”
According to Morris, these women did not want to come forward and report their stories. As of now these women have still not come forward publicly.
“A lot of that is for themselves and a lot of that is the sinister culture there,” Morris says. “They think if they reported something it would affect their chance of getting anything in this town.”
But after hearing his coworkers’ stories, Morris says he began to feel complicit and decided, with the permission of some of the women, to report the stories to Trevor Jones.
In 2016 Morris alleges that he had a one-on-one meeting with Jones in which he told him about the “Facebook fishing,” the fact that he had seen Elnashai touch a woman at the theater who told him to stop, and the incident in which Elnashai told a woman she had to sleep with him or she would not get jobs.
Shortly after this meeting, Hadrian Belove allegedly took Morris aside and told him that he was “not surprised” to hear the allegations about Elnashai. When Morris mentioned that in his opinion there was a “thriving rape culture” at Cinefamily, Belove reportedly became angry and said to Morris that just because he “hated himself as a man doesn’t mean all men are rapists.”
When reached for comment for this piece Belove sent this comment to Jezebel: “The allegation of a rape culture is outrageous and untrue.” A representative for Belove writes that “out of respect for the ongoing investigation by the Board, he has no comment on the remaining questions.”
According to Morris, Belove and Jones told him that because he was a third party they could not move forward with the case unless a victim came forward. Morris, saying he understood this, told them that he wanted Elnashai removed from the board, to which Belove allegedly said that “was extreme.” Morris then put in his notice because he did not want to continue at the theater with Elnashai on the board. He left last Halloween.
In an email to Jezebel, Jones says that while can not speak to what Belove said, he writes, “I can say unequivocally that I never said that a third-party claim isn’t valid. In fact, I acted on the claim as such.”
In Cinefamily’s statement on the allegations, released last week, they write that “in the two years since the appointment of our Executive Managing Director, Trevor Jones, we have received one harassment claim.”
In addition to the incidents Morris says he brought to Jones’ attention (the “Facebook fishing,” an incident in which Elnashai inappropriately touched an employee, and the incident in which an employee was pushed to sleep with Elnashai) Jezebel has also obtained a printed and scanned copy of a November 2016 email chain that former Cinefamily employee Elle O’Brien mentioned in a previous report.
In the email, at least four employees including O’Brien reply to a thread saying a Cinefamily patron makes women uncomfortable, with one person saying that he should be banned from the theater. “I’ve been at Cinefamily for years now and [redacted] has been a constant problem for the staff and no one ever agreed to do anything,” writes one employee. “Out with him!”
Trevor Jones replies to this thread and says that the complaint has been received and noted. In a later reply he writes that “no situation like this will be handled in a group thread.”
“I expressed that the Nightly Report was not the proper forum for an investigation but that one would be conducted,” Jones says. “We interviewed the complainants who expressed that their primary concerns were that he would sneak into the theater. Neither of the complainants thought he was a threat in any other way. Hadrian offered to speak to the customer about this directly.”
According to two former employees who wish to remain anonymous, Cinefamily allegedly did hold a sexual harassment seminar a few weeks after this email chain occurred. At this seminar employees were told by Jones that he “could only respond to harassment claims made by victims themselves, they can’t remain anonymous or else he couldn’t ‘investigate.’” And if you were a third party and witnessed harassment that made you uncomfortable, but it did not happen to you, “it doesn’t count,” he said, according to the former employees.
Jones tells Jezebel that at this meeting he read directly from the Department of Fair Employment and Housing website. “Further I implored anyone with information about harassment to come forward, and reiterated that we have a zero tolerance policy for retribution,” he writes. “I never said that a witness of harassment doesn’t count. That assertion is absurd. I had already acted on such a claim.”
Shortly after that Cinefamily reportedly hosted another sexual harassment seminar this time with the legal team Ogletree Deakins which the theater mentions in their official statement. At that seminar a lawyer allegedly told employees the opposite, that witnessing sexual harassment and feeling uncomfortable is enough to report it to your employer. In an email to Jezebel a representative from Ogletree Deakins confirmed that they provided annual sexual harassment training to Cinefamily earlier this year but declined to comment further.
After the initial email allegations against Cinefamily first circulated employees had a meeting on August 23 in which staff members expressed grievances regarding the statement the organization made. Floor staff who work at the theater each day were upset that they had not been consulted in writing the statement and wanted more transparency.
Sources say Cinefamily told employees that they were going to hold a public forum for staff members to talk about their experiences on August 24, a forum which was to be announced to the public that morning. This public forum was apparently canceled and then delayed by Trevor Jones who told staffers that the forum would need proper security.
Jones confirmed that there was going to be a proposed event for the public, not for employees. But he says the theatre had been vandalized the night before and staff were concerned that the event would not be safe. “It was agreed that the staff’s safety was more important then our holding this event,” Jones writes.
On August 27 Cinefamily’s Board of Directors posted a new statement to the theater’s social media channels. In the statement, the directors write that Cinefamily is temporarily suspending all theater activities and working with an “independent third party,” Giles Miller at Lynx Insights & Investigations to investigate “any alleged impropriety.”
A former Cinefamily employee who wishes to remain anonymous points out to Jezebel via email that Giles Miller may not be an entirely independent party to Cinefamily.
Giles Miller, who is a principal at Lynx Insights & Investigations, is also on the board of directors at Human Resources LA, a non-profit exhibition space in the city. This employee tells Jezebel in an email that HRLA has collaborated twice with Cinefamily: for a 2013 Paul Pescador screening presented by HRLA and a 2016 series of Chantal Akerman movies that included HRLA as a venue. A 2012 article in LA Canvas describes Miller, who is a co-founder of HRLA, as a “musician, performer, and professional investigator.”
“I am a member of the board of directors of Human Resources LA, but have not been involved with programming at HRLA since January 2013,” Miller wrote in an email to Jezebel when reached for comment. “I had no involvement with any collaborations between HRLA and Cinefamily. I have no relationship with any member of the Cinefamily board or staff.”
To recap: Cinefamily’s statement claims that Trevor Jones received one harassment complaint, but according to Morris and the email chain Jones was on, Jones had received more than one. And in addition to the accounts that sexual harassment was present at Cinefamily, new evidence suggests that higher-ups not only wrongly defined what harassment was to employees, but also placed restrictions on how employees could talk about it in the workplace.