Ain't It Cool News founder Harry Knowles has been accused of sexual assault, prompting two longtime employees to quit the popular movie news and review website on Monday.
The fallout happened after Jasmine Baker of Austin told IndieWire Knowles repeatedly rubbed up against her and touched her without her consent at the Alamo Drafthouse theater in 1999 and 2000. He also allegedly put his hand up her skirt.
“Harry Knowles groped me, opportunistically, on more than one occasion,” Baker told IndieWire. “I cannot just stay silent. I am not interested in remaining silent.”
Knowles did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment Monday, but told IndieWire: “I categorically deny it.”
Knowles and his team built Ain't It Cool News into a widely read and influential website for not only movie and science fiction fans, but Hollywood studios trying to manage expectations for upcoming films.
But the allegations prompted Steve Prokopy, known as the writer Capone who served as the site's Chicago editor, and longtime contributor Eric Vespe to resign.
"This was a remarkably easy decision to make; a scary and emotional decision, but an easy one," Prokopy said in a statement he posted on Twitter. "I have known too many women over the years — both inside and outside the film community — who have encountered and survived sexual harassment and/or assault to allow myself to remain involved in an organization where allegations of either are part of the landscape."
Vespe also announced his decision on Twitter, saying Knowles' alleged behavior was “impossible to defend” and he could not "in good conscience, continue to contribute to the brand I helped build over the last 20 years."
Baker said she worked at the Drafthouse from 2003 to 2007. When she reported the behavior to theater founders Tim and Karrie League, Baker said they were horrified but told her to just avoid Knowles in the future, according to IndieWire.
Earlier this month, Alamo Drafthouse issued a public apology after it was uncovered that their former editor-in-chief, Devin Faraci, had been quietly hired back as a copywriter after being let go for alleged sexual assault.
"In light of all that has happened for them publicly, today they might make a different choice about how to handle someone they did business with," Baker told IndieWire. "But at that time, they were trying to bring inclusiveness to everyone and also didn’t want to confront a business partner.”
Tim League and Knowles founded Fantastic Fest annual film festival in Austin, but it was announced last week that neither of them would be attending this year’s event.
Baker told IndieWire she initially ran the accusations by friends, but they shrugged them off. She said she was bringing them forward again because attitudes are changing about what’s considered acceptable behavior and how people address sexual misconduct allegations.
League released a statement saying Alamo Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest have "severed all ties with Harry Knowles and he is no longer affiliated with the company in any capacity." (Read the statement in full below.)
The Austin Film Critics Association also removed Knowles as a member "after conferring with membership, and by a substantial majority vote." "We feel that this is the best choice for our organization and for the future of the Austin film community," they said in a statement.
Here is League's full statement:
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.