Former talk show host Jay Leno, comedian Ellen DeGeneres, and a number of other famous people are using their celebrity to lend their voices in support of a boycott of a string of luxury hotels owned by the government of Brunei. The southeast Asian country recently passed laws that target gays and women. The laws are calling for individuals who break Islamic laws, including homosexuality and adultery, to face consequences for their actions that include being put to death by stoning.
In April the Brunei government imposed a new series of controversial penal codes under Sharia Laws. News of the laws got considerable attention last Wednesday when Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah proclaimed that punishments for the offenses of sodomy and adultery would result in those found guilty to be put to death by stoning. A number of feminist groups and celebrities have spoken out in protest.
Adding their voices to the already vocal Leno and DeGeneres are celebrities including television talk show host Sharon Osborne, actor and comedian Stephen Fry, and billionaire Richard Branson. Jay Leno lead a demonstration in front of the famed Beverly Hills Hotel, one of a string of hotels owned by the Sultan. At the gathering near the entrance of the hotel Leno compared the acts of the Brunei government to that of 1933 Berlin and the barbaric acts during the holocaust. In the U.K., Branson, entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group, got to show his support of the boycott by declaring via Twitter that neither he, his family, nor Virgin employees will be staying at hotel properties owned by the Sultan as long as these laws remain on their books.
The wealthy Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, owns a string of luxury hotels in various parts of the world including the famed Beverly Hills Hotel, London’s Dorchester, and the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. Other hotel properties can be found in Switzerland, Italy, and France. Reports also reveal that the Sultan has added to his list of violations of Islamic Laws, citing that theft will result in the cutting off of limbs, being found guilty of abortion or alcohol consumption will get an offender flogged, and rape and sodomy will result in death by stoning.
According to reports, the Beverly Hills city council is looking into the issue of the boycott and the economic ramifications it could cause for the city’s economy. The Beverly Hills Hotel generates $7 million in bed taxes and another $4 million in city taxes. The boycott could also prove detrimental to the staff of the hotel, which employs approximately 600 employees. The Beverly Hills mayor said that a statement will be made that does not condemn the hotel, but that shows solidarity for the cause of human rights.
The Beverly Hills Hotel is already seeing a number of events pulling out of their venue. The Motion Picture and Television Fund has canceled their charity event for next year and the Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment annual breakfast event has also decided to check out of the Brunei-owned property in protest.
As more support of a protest is demonstrated throughout the entertainment industry, and the outspoken voices get louder, that Hollywood machine is demonstrating how very capable it is of bringing awareness to issues. Celebrities and their ability to boycott and influence are now challenging others to think where they would like to lay their heads at night, and whether or not staying in a string of hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei would allow them to sleep soundly.
By Hal Banfield