Every time Jill Lewis goes back to the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater where she worked for a decade, she sees the face of a man she learned to fear because of his sexually aggressive behavior. It’s right there on the wall: one of the faces on a mural, painted to celebrate their favorite customers, in the theater’s lobby on South Lamar in the company’s hometown of Austin.

When Lewis began working her way up from food runner in 2001 to manager of the South Lamar location, the theater wasn’t yet one of the hippest and most respected brands in movies. Though a local landmark, it hadn’t begun expanding to high-profile events like the annual international film festival Fantastic Fest, or growing to more than 25 locations in seven states, with more than 5,000 employees. But late in her tenure with the company, around 2008 or 2009 while she was working at the South Lamar location, one of the chain’s regular customers grabbed her in the hallway.

“I was managing the theater that night,” Lewis recalls. “He grabbed my arm and my shoulder and got really close to my ear. I could feel his mouth on my ear. And he started whispering things about my pussy, and wanting to do things...I felt so unsafe at that point. It wasn’t just the wildly inappropriate things he was saying, but that he was so close.”

Lewis says she wrote up the incident in her manager’s notes for the night, and contacted the theater’s owners, Tim and Karrie League, to tell them about it. At that point in the company’s growth, the Leagues had everyday roles in running the individual theaters, and Lewis trusted them. She considered them her friends.

“The next day, Karrie contacted me,” Lewis says. “She let me know that they felt really bad for him.” The Leagues had a dilemma: The customer lived with a traumatic brain injury, and was one of the chain’s most loyal customers. They knew he seemed to struggle with impulse control. Lewis says she was told that “he pretty much lived his life at the Alamo,” and “if they were to ban him from it, it would just ruin him.”

Instead, she says, Karrie told her they’d decided on a way to handle it: They’d drawn up a document for him to sign, in which he would agree not to do or say inappropriate things to her. (The customer did not respond to questions about the hallway incident, but acknowledged that someone from the company instructed him to stop contacting her. “Ms. Lewis had been upset by a Facebook message I had written her. I had been confused by our interactions & had suggested meeting for coffee or lunch.” He told Splinter he had complied with the instruction and “never heard another word about it.” The Leagues declined to comment publicly on whether they have a record of the incident Lewis describes.)

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In 2011, Lewis left the company. Three years later, when the South Lamar theater held its grand re-opening, this customer’s face was among those featured in the mural.

For Lewis, the hardest part about how the company responded was that being around this customer just became part of her job. “I didn’t feel comfortable saying, ‘No, I really need him banned, this is not OK,’” she says. “They were the owners of the place I worked at, and I’m a single mom. I was paycheck-to-paycheck. So I just had to take it. And he was back. And he came back over and over and over again.” The Alamo Drafthouse and the Leagues, despite multiple requests over the course of several months, have declined to comment publicly on any of the specific incidents mentioned in this story.

Lewis says she would see him watch her while she was at work, and she was scared. “I felt unsafe around him,” she says, something two former co-workers recall, as well. She learned how to mitigate her risks. She’d have a server or someone from the kitchen staff stay late when closing, so they could walk her to her car. Eventually, she left the company for an office job. Several other people told Splinter about their own experiences with this customer’s inappropriate behavior.

And stories like these go beyond this one customer. More than a dozen people spoke to Splinter about negative experiences at the theater that included its leadership minimizing allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment—at the hands of favored customers, high- and low-level employees, and business partners. Splinter received a recording of a conversation between Karrie League and a longtime friend about this history. Former employees, customers who began visiting the theater when it opened in 1997, and members of the chain’s “family” of favored guests who attended the private, invite-only 20th anniversary celebration the theater held this past spring all came forward to express serious concerns about the Alamo Drafthouse’s history of minimizing or ignoring sexual harassment and sexual abuse by the company’s employees, customers, and partners.

Splinter spoke to multiple former employees from a variety of eras at the company—from the freewheeling early days to the more recent time during which the company had established corporate policies for franchise locations around the country. One common thread a number of these people identified was that, on multiple occasions and at multiple locations, it seemed that supervisors took minimal action after witnessing or being informed that an employee had behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner with subordinates or co-workers. In some instances, even after an HR complaint, these employees would continue working for the company, and could be granted the opportunity to advance their careers within the company or transfer to another location, rather than terminated.

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The Alamo Drafthouse isn’t just a movie theater. Since its founding, the company has built its reputation around the idea of providing a haven for a certain type of person—the kind who felt alienated and out of place elsewhere, and who found solace in a movie theater that celebrated geekdom. People who gush about the Drafthouse talk about it like it’s church, a holy place where movies are honored above all and disrupting that experience (by, say, talking during a screening) is forbidden. But there’s a dark side to running your business as a haven for outsiders, too.

When Lewis talks about how the Leagues treated the customer who accosted her, she says something that nearly everyone who described their own experiences with the company brought up: that there seems to be a class of people in the Leagues’ inner circle who are protected from consequences for the abuse or harassment they inflict.

“Why wasn’t he doing it to Karrie League? If he had done it to the wrong person—the more important person—he would not have been around,” Lewis says. “And so many more women have been made to feel uncomfortable around him. He’s made unwanted sexual advances toward them for all of these years. And he’s been this protected person.”  

In the fall of 2017, amid a public relations crisis, Tim League addressed employees at one of the chain’s Austin theaters about harassment, where concerns were raised about the same customer. According to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, the company’s HR department conducted an investigation into the way he treated employees—including sexually suggestive comments and frequent remarks on the appearance of female staff—which concluded by early December. This source told Splinter that investigators claimed to not find a pattern of harassment. Instead, the source said, the company would present the customer with a copy of its new harassment policy, which he’d be instructed to sign, and told that he’d be banned from the theater if he violated it.

Lewis is soft-spoken and comes off as shy. She wears her brown hair straight and down, and frames her face with clear, horn-rimmed glasses. The Alamo Drafthouse is known for boisterous personalities like Tim League, but it’s hard not to believe that the work of people like her—thoughtful, low-key people who are unlikely to put themselves on stage or make a spectacle—may have been just as instrumental in the growth of the company into the 1-million-customers-a-month behemoth it is today.

Lewis hasn’t been immune to buying into those big personalities. She’s long considered the Leagues her friends, and has only recently begun re-evaluating what that friendship means in light of how they handled her situation.

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But as she did, she began to wonder: Who were the people behind the beloved movie theater chain to which she had given 10 years of her life? Who and what were they determined to protect at the theaters they encouraged people to think of as sacred places?


Lewis wasn’t the only—or even the first—person to ask those questions. In the early 2000s, Jasmine Baker, who’d been a Drafthouse regular and friend to the Leagues since they opened their first theater in Austin, went to Karrie League to tell her about one of the company’s outside partners. “I’m telling them, you have to stop doing business with him. This is abhorrent. You can’t keep doing business with him,” she recalls. Baker told them about a friend of hers, who’d told her that she’d been raped by this man. (Splinter could not confirm the incident, and the woman involved declined to speak with us, so we are not naming either party.)

The incident Baker talked about with Karrie would stay with them for years. More than a decade later, the company’s reputation was under threat for something involving a different person—it was revealed in September 2017 that Tim League had surreptitiously re-hired blogger Devin Faraci months after he’d stepped down as editor-in-chief of the company’s film website, Birth.Movies.Death, amid sexual assault allegations that occurred years before he began working with the company.

Baker and Karrie League met for dinner on September 19 at the Austin restaurant Bonhomie, where they discussed the issues the company was experiencing after the news about Faraci became public, and what might happen if the allegations Baker had told Karrie about when they’d spoken years ago ended up in the next wave of headlines. Baker, suspicious of her friend’s motivation for discussing the issue, recorded the conversation.

It was weeks before the Harvey Weinstein story would dominate the film press with major sexual assault revelations. Reporters at various outlets were interested in what was happening at the Drafthouse and with the company’s Fantastic Fest. The company had continued its relationship with this partner for years after the incident she was told about, and Karrie believed the allegations she’d been made aware of in the early 2000s were going to be made public. She was worried for the future of the festival, which was due to begin two days later.

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“I think Fantastic Fest is going to get canceled,” Karrie told Baker at the restaurant.

“You think?” Baker replied.

“It depends on what gets written...There are already a lot of filmmakers that pulled out. A lot of films that pulled out,” Karrie acknowledged, referring to the existing controversy around Faraci. But it was Baker’s friend’s rape allegation from years earlier, and the possibility that it might become public, that most concerned her. “I’m specifically talking about what’s coming out...That is a game changer.”

After Baker had gone to her years ago, Karrie told Baker she sought out more information about the incident that she would describe as a “game changer.”

“I actually spoke to the person to whom it happened and I knew that she was telling the truth,” Karrie acknowledged to Baker, even as she said she was “very ashamed” over the fact that she and her husband had done “nothing” about the person Baker told them about. “The one little piece of non-guilt I can bear with me is that I never disbelieved her.”

That decision seemed to eat at Karrie as she considered the possibility that the allegation she learned about years earlier might become public. “I’m glad that before it comes out, I got my apology in,” Karrie told Baker. “Because to my eternal shame, it never occurred to me from that time to this that I owed her an apology. It never occurred to me how badly I abandoned her.”

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She handed Baker her phone, on which she had typed an open letter she had written to the woman, and the community, apologizing for her and her husband’s decisions, that she intended to publish after the story she expected to run came out. “It’s too little, too late,” Karrie admitted. “And it’s a reaction instead of action.”

Ultimately, the story that Karrie feared never emerged. Karrie League never published her open letter. Fantastic Fest went on as planned.

Throughout the conversation, Baker quizzed Karrie on how she—who ran human resources for the company for years—and her husband addressed allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Baker brought up a former manager who was reported multiple times, then transferred to another location instead of fired.

“That one was also on me, because I was in charge of HR with no training,” Karrie said, “and I talked to him and he promised that he would do better, and then I would get another complaint, and I’d talk to him again, and he’d promise he would do better, and I got another complaint, and I just gave him too many chances.”

Baker, who worked for the company for a few years in the mid-‘00s, explained that lower-level employees felt expendable, and Karrie agreed. “We had no systems to ensure that people felt comfortable coming to us,” she admitted. Baker asked her about the customer Jill Lewis says had grabbed her in the hallway of the South Lamar theater, with whom Baker had experiences of her own, and asked Karrie if she knew what he did to women in their theaters. “I know that people have had to speak to him very seriously many, many times,” Karrie told her.

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At one point, Karrie questioned if the business model of the Drafthouse itself should be adapted to address the issue. She wondered aloud if the Drafthouse should show movies by filmmakers who had been accused of sexual assault, like Woody Allen or Roman Polanski, as she considered the future of the company. “There’s a part of me that’s like, whoa, well, if we’re forced out [of the company], we don’t even have to deal with any of this anymore. It’s a very small part of me, but you’ve gotta find the silver linings where you can, right?”

Baker had her own experiences with inappropriate sexual behavior within Alamo Drafthouse circles. A few days after meeting with Karrie League, she told the film website IndieWire about multiple instances involving Harry Knowles, founder of the pioneering movie blog Ain’t It Cool News. Both Baker and Knowles had been present in the Austin film community before the Leagues even moved to the city. She can’t remember where she was the first time Knowles groped her, but she says he did so on multiple occasions—rubbing against her from behind, or putting his hand under her shirt. (Knowles didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, but told IndieWire “I categorically deny” the allegations.) She’d talk about it with her friends, contributing to a “whisper network” of women in the community who knew to avoid Knowles.

“It’s never a good sign, if Harry grabs you,” Jill Lewis says. “All of us had heard so many stories about how you don’t get within arm’s distance of him.” Another woman, who was friendly with Knowles, described him as living in a Tex Avery cartoon, referring to the animator whose wolves whistled, tongues on the table, eyes bulged out of their heads.

The Alamo Drafthouse’s affiliation with Knowles is almost as old as the theater itself. He was one of their early supporters, and it was reciprocal. Since 1999, through December 2016, he hosted his annual birthday marathon festival, Butt-Numb-A-Thon, at the theater. He brought them high-profile screenings with famous directors and big-name stars. When Fantastic Fest launched in 2005, they announced him as a co-founder.

Baker is not the only person to make allegations about Knowles. Gloria Walker, a Drafthouse regular who knew Knowles from his place atop the Austin film community, had reached out to him in 2011 to ask for a spot on the guest list for a preview screening of Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger. “I wouldn’t say we were friends, but we had met before,” Walker says. She emailed him to ask how to get on the guest list for the screening, and received an answer: Give him a kiss.

She struggled with the decision of whether to attend the screening. Friends assured her that she could still go even if she didn’t follow through on the kiss, and she eventually attended. When she saw him at the theater, she hugged him instead. “I felt beholden to him,” she says. “And it’s crazy. Just this weekend, I realized I could have just paid nine dollars and seen it a week later. But these events seem like they’re exclusive.”

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Knowles cultivated a harmless persona. The caricature of him that once appeared on the Ain’t It Cool News website is downright friendly, like a drawing of a muppet. And Walker says he used that, along with his position of power in the community, to his advantage.

“When I was first getting to know him, I said hi to him [at a party] and he grabbed my ass,” she says. “It gets played off, like, ‘Ha ha ha, he grabbed my ass,’ but I don’t really know this person...and he just touched me.” But she didn’t want to cut herself off from the community to avoid him—and Knowles was very much at the center of it. “It made me uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, I knew on Halloween where all my friends would be. So I would go there.” After Walker— along with three other women, including Jill Lewis—went public with their allegations, Knowles, without acknowledging any wrongdoing, stepped down from his website, vowing “therapy, detox, and getting to a better place.”

Women who worked at the Drafthouse shared similar encounters with Knowles. At one of the last Fantastic Fest events that happened during her time at the company, Jill Lewis was working a late-night party and walked through the dining area of the affiliated bar and restaurant. “Harry was there, and he said, ‘Hey Jill,’ and he grabbed my arm and pulled me close,” she says. “He grabbed me, and pulled me down, and started talking in my ear about how he and his wife wanted to see me naked. And I just said, ‘No, no, thank you.’ I just felt disgusting. And everybody knew that was Harry’s behavior. And he got away with it. All the time. But nothing ever happened to him. He was one of the untouchables.”


There are many ways to find yourself cast out of Drafthouse circles. If you’re a customer who takes her phone out during a movie, a manager will kick you out of the theater, and they might create a video to play before screenings that shames you for your behavior. If you talk during a screening, a sin the company has clearly-established protocols for addressing, other patrons are encouraged to report the violation to management, who will remove the offenders from the theater.

“I’ve kicked out many people for talking or texting in my time,” Lewis says. “But I don’t know if we’ve ever actually kicked anybody out for inappropriate sexual behavior.”

Among employees, such behavior has a history of being tolerated, too, with multiple chances being offered to some employees who engage in it.

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Devin Faraci was hired in late 2010 to helm a film criticism, news, and commentary website and magazine the Drafthouse called Badass Digest (later rebranded as Birth.Movies.Death), and he found himself in the inner circle. As a writer, he used his platform to connect his love of movies with social commentary. In the run-up to the 2016 election, he was one of the many anti-Trump voices condemning the GOP nominee’s comments to Billy Bush on the Access Hollywood tape. He posted about it on Twitter in October 2016, and a female film blogger challenged him: “Quick question,” she tweeted. “Do you remember grabbing me by the pussy and bragging to our friends about it, telling them to smell your fingers?”

Faraci, who has written about his history of being a blackout drinker, responded with an apology, claiming that he had no recollection of doing so, but that he could only believe her and apologize. Within a few days, he’d publicly left his role at Birth.Movies.Death. He hasn’t tweeted from the account since.

Tim League stayed loyal to Faraci, though. By February, he’d quietly offered Faraci a job doing copywriting for the Alamo Drafthouse. The role ended up expanding; in September, his byline appeared on an early draft of the Fantastic Fest film guide, writing movie descriptions. Tim quickly responded to concerns from festivalgoers, explaining that he believed in second chances and that Faraci had earned his by going to rehab and seeking treatment for his addiction issues, so he had brought him in to do copywriting for the theater. Tim’s statement did little to quell concerns, and within a few days, Faraci was granted the opportunity to offer his resignation.

Tim, under fire, spent several weeks on a tour to visit every Drafthouse location around the country in order to discuss that situation, and others, with employees. He issued a statement in September, explaining that he’d be skipping Fantastic Fest, that the company would also be ending its affiliation with Harry Knowles, and that “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.”

When she met with Jasmine Baker at Bonhomie, Karrie League explained that the outrage over Faraci’s employment with the Drafthouse was a misunderstanding. She acknowledged that the company had made mistakes, but bringing Faraci back into the fold wasn’t one of them. “Everyone was right to be yelling, they were just yelling about the wrong thing,” she explained as she anticipated headlines about the unrelated rape allegation to break. “Tim had permission from the woman [whom he’s alleged to have assaulted]” to re-hire Faraci.

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Baker, upon hearing this, expressed surprise, and Karrie began to explain, walking her through their internal thought process that led them to interpret a rather more ambiguous statement as an endorsement of re-hiring Faraci. “It wasn’t like, ‘Yes, you may hire this guy to proofread,’...but he had a long conversation with her and she said it was not her intent to punish him...Tim took that as permission to help him pay for his rehab by letting him proofread our press releases…a couple times a week,” she said to Baker. As she did, she seemed to recognize that “permission” might have been in the eye of the beholder. “He didn’t double-check for the specifics,” she went on to admit, unprompted. “And he probably should have done that.”

This kind of rationalization seems to have been common at the Drafthouse. With favored employees and customers, the Leagues have a pattern of being forgiving. In a number of instances, sexually inappropriate behavior wasn’t enough for the company to take decisive, permanent action.

That seems to have been a part of Drafthouse culture from the company’s early days in Austin, through to its expansion into a nationwide corporation. Multiple people, from employees who started with in the company in the early 2000s to current staff, described different incidents in which managers or trainers would be reported to a supervisor or HR for sexually inappropriate behavior. In the situations they described to Splinter, the employees who behaved inappropriately would be allowed to remain with the company and could be awarded for their work, or transferred to another location, where they had the opportunity to engage in similar behavior toward new co-workers or subordinates.

In at least one situation, an employee who was reassigned to another location as a result of sexual harassment allegations was eventually fired after being reported again at the new theater. He subsequently worked directly with Tim League to plan events on a per-project basis.

Tim spent much of September and October on a tour of the company’s theaters around the country to talk with staff about their own experiences, and in November announced a newly formed board of directors for Fantastic Fest, with more women than men involved. He appeared at a panel at Sundance in January to discuss the issue of harassment. While the company has declined multiple opportunities to participate in this story, they did send over a statement acknowledging recent changes:

“On January 16, 2018, Alamo Drafthouse posted an updated code of conduct for its employees that was long in the making and includes the efforts of many inside and outside the company. The updated code of conduct is available [here]. Since September 2017, so many people inside and outside the company have devoted their focus and energy into making certain Alamo Drafthouse is a safe, respectful and inclusive place for everyone—guests and colleagues, friends and family. These latest efforts will better ensure that the Alamo Drafthouse is and always will be a safe, respectful, and inclusive place for all.”

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But given the way the company has historically valued men like Harry Knowles, Devin Faraci, and a number of other employees and customers over the years, those who found themselves, their friends, and their co-workers victimized at the Drafthouse are left wondering: Is it too little, too late?


On May 25, 2017, the Alamo Drafthouse held a family reunion of sorts. It was an intimate affair at the chain’s smallest theater, the Sixth Street location in downtown Austin at the Ritz, to celebrate the chain’s 20th anniversary. The Leagues performed in drag for an audience of “long-time and long-ago employees and a select few old-guard customers.” They screened Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver for the crowd, weeks before its official release, and invited the director to join them on stage. The venue packed in people from the two decades of Drafthouse history. Jasmine Baker was one of the invited guests; so was Jill Lewis.

So was Harry Knowles. So was the man who had grabbed Lewis in the theater years earlier, as a celebrated guest at the event.

Lewis was crushed when she saw him.

“Even the girl who was sitting next to me, who had been one of the people who would walk me to my car at the end of the night—who knew how incredibly creepy he was— she just placed her hand on my arm and said, ‘Oh, Jill, I’m so sorry,’” Lewis says.

A few months later, the makeup of that room would look very different. Lewis, after speaking up about her concerns, says she doesn’t feel like she would be welcome at the Drafthouse anymore. In one of Jasmine Baker’s last interactions with Karrie League, the theater owner texted Baker, asking if she wanted her to pay for her to see a therapist—a suggestion Baker says she found insulting. The Drafthouse disinvited Knowles from Fantastic Fest, and banned him from the theater shortly thereafter. Lewis received a message from Tim League during Fantastic Fest, assuring her, “[W]e will now finally (too little, too late) address that properly,” referring to her public account of the situation with the man who accosted her, although specifics of what that meant were not included.

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All of which suggests that, whatever the company ends up looking like as it attempts to weather this crisis, the people who make up the culture and community will be different from what it looked like in the past. And in the wake of it, the Leagues expressed concerns that so, too, might the leadership. Tim League’s message to Lewis included the caveat of “if I am able to continue as CEO.” Karrie League, when meeting with Baker, told her, “It’s entirely possible that, you know, we’re just going to start over—with something else—and when we do, we will try to do way better with that next thing, because we have apparently fucked this one all up.”

If all of this results in the end of the Leagues’ tenure atop the Alamo Drafthouse, then ultimately, they’ll be joining the ranks of others within its community who could no longer be a part of it. After all, people like Jill Lewis and Jasmine Baker lost the Alamo Drafthouse long before Tim and Karrie League were in a position where they might.

“I thought I could fix it from the inside,” Baker told Karrie at the restaurant, her voice thick with tears, as she reflected on her relationship with the community she had been a part of since the Leagues opened the theater’s doors. She couldn’t let herself be robbed of the community that she loved. “If we just disappeared, then everybody that was shitty would just win...We weren’t the ones that should have ever felt unwelcome.”

This story was edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz, fact-checked by Jessica Corbett, and copy-edited by Nara Shin.