Hollywood Protests Against Owners Of Beverly Hills Hotel

The hotel is part of a group owned by the Sultan of Brunei. The Southeast Asian country has enacted laws based on strict interpretations of Islam that impose restrictions on women and gays.

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A landmark hotel in Hollywood has become the focus of protest. The hotel is part of an international chain. The hotel chain is owned by the Sultan of Brunei. He's the ruler of a tiny Southeast Asian country that recently introduced a strict form of Islamic Sharia laws. Celebrities who once stayed in that Hollywood hotel say they cannot accept the politics of its owner.

NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

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MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: For more than a century, the five-star Beverly Hills Hotel has attracted the Hollywood crowd: Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne. Howard Hughes lived there for decades. The Beatles swam in the pool. The so-called Pink Palace even showed up on a 1976 album by The Eagles.

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EAGLES: (Singing) Welcome to the Hotel California...

DEL BARCO: The hotel, once owned by celebrities Irene Dunn and Loretta Young, now belongs to an investment group controlled by the Sultan of Brunei. He recently imposed a strict Islamic penal code that includes stoning to death gay men and lesbians, and flogging women who have abortions. That sparked protests this week outside the Beverly Hills Hotel.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Nobody is going to set foot in that damn hotel until he is out of it. The Sultan of Brunei is a bully and a coward.

DEL BARCO: Among the crowd was former late night TV host Jay Leno.

JAY LENO: We hope maybe to draw attention to this and people go, OK, maybe I won't hold my event there until they change this. I mean, we have the economic pressure to apply. Nobody...

DEL BARCO: Others, including comedian Ellen DeGeneres, actor Stephen Fry and TV host Sharon Osbourne, also expressed outrage. The founder of Virgin says his employees are no longer allowed to stay at the hotel chain. Several Hollywood and women's groups have canceled or moved their events from the hotels, including an annual pre-Oscars charity ball. And the city of Beverly Hills voted to boycott as well. Hotel worker Anna Romer told the city council that would only hurt employees.

ANNA ROMER: It's not just breaking our hearts that you would associate us with these horrible acts this man commits, but it strangles our livelihood.

DEL BARCO: The Beverly Hills hotel is run by the Dorchester Collection, which also runs the Bel-Air hotel and eight others in Europe. The company's CEO Christopher Crowdray told TV station KCAL the protests are misguided.

CHRISTOPHER CROWDRAY: The introduction of a new law is a political and religious matter which has nothing to do with myself or any staff of the hotel.

DEL BARCO: Some suggest the protests may do little to sway the sultan, one of the richest men in the world. In fact, Kecia Ali, associate professor of religion at Boston University, says the protests might just backfire.

KECIA ALI: If his ordinance provokes a protest from the people who seem to be the epitome of what he's trying to eradicate from his society, then it might actually bolster his image.

DEL BARCO: Other countries with questionable human rights records own businesses in the U.S.; for example, a Chinese government-backed company now owns the AMC Theater chain. The co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," S.E. Cupp, has called out Hollywood for continuing to do business with countries with laws similar to Brunei's. The United Arab Emirates...

S.E. CUPP: Justin Timberlake will perform there in May. "Fast and Furious 7" is reportedly filming there right now; George Clooney, Ben Affleck, the Kardashians - all popular guests of the Dubai.

DEL BARCO: Will Hollywood celebrities single out every other company with connections to a country whose laws they don't like? asks Dorchester Collection CEO Christopher Crowdray. He suggests they might be more effective lobbying the U.S. State Department.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

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