Theater Takes Legal Action Over Utah Deadpool Censorship

A movie theater in Utah faces a possible $25,000 fine for serving alcohol during a screening of fan-favorite Deadpool. Citing a law that prohibits the showing of simulated sex while serving alcohol, the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control threatened to revoke Brewvies’ liquor license and issue a fine, but the theater hit back by suing the DABC in federal court over the unconstitutionality of the law.

Serving alcohol has become a popular trend in the movie theater business these days, and what movie is better suited to the practice than the extremely popular film based on the foul-mouthed comic book anti-hero Deadpool? What seemed like a brilliant business plan for Salt Lake City-based Brewvies quickly landed the theater in hot water with the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Called a “grave” offense, the DABC said that the combination of nudity and sexual themes in the movie coupled with the serving of alcohol violated the Utah Alcoholic Beverage Control Act.

Undercover agents of the DABC discovered the offense by visiting the theater, buying beers, and observing that the film had not been censored to make such a viewing compliant with Utah’s draconian law. In response, they brought Brewvies to court, where the theater faced the revocation of their liquor license and a several thousand dollar fine.

This wasn’t the first time, Brewvies has been the target of what many people regard as an absurd law. In 2011, the theater was fined $1,627 for a similar “offense” when they served alcohol at showings of Hangover Part II, and the theater has been threatened by DABC over showings of Magic Mike XXL and Ted 2. This time around, the theater was prepared with a lawsuit against the DABC, arguing that the law is not only unconstitutional but also that the actions of the DABC agents were “laughable.”

“It was absolutely unconstitutional for the DABC to be citing bad law to go after them,” Brewvies’ lawyer Rocky Anderson told Fox 13. “This isn’t supposed to be the Taliban. This is supposed to be a state agency!”

Deadpool has incited controversy since its first screenings in February. The film was outright banned from China and censored in Uzbekistan and India. This case in Utah takes the controversy further. Utah’s bizarre law prohibiting the depiction of nudity and sexual themes while partaking in alcohol seems to many like a roundabout way to enforce censorship. “There’s not been one liquor law violation at Brewvies. Ever. They only allow people who are 21 in. They’ve never had a liquor law violation,” Anderson said. “So what does the DABC do? They go out and want to censor their movies.”

Brewvies is standing up for their First Amendment rights and fighting back. The DABC cancelled the court hearing in response to the federal lawsuit, but Brewvies is still pursuing legal action, arguing they have a First Amendment right to show Deadpool and similar R-rated films while serving alcohol. They have started a GoFundMe page to support their legal efforts.

“This isn’t only about Brewvies First Amendment rights,” Anderson told Chris Miller with CBS affiliate KUTV. “This is about the First Amendment rights of Brewvies customers, who obviously want to see these movies. Whether alcohol is involved or not, the First Amendment applies. Period.”

Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by visiting the Rewards Zonemaking a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!

Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!