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Watch: Clooney Tells Ellen About Boycott of Businesses in Bed with Brunei

by Kilian Melloy
Friday May 10, 2019

George Clooney appeared on "Ellen" this week to talk about the hotel boycott he started to pressure businesses that maintain relationships with the nation of Brunei, which had announced a plan to enforce brutal tenets of Sharia law by murdering LGBTQ people.

"You can't shame bad people," Clooney acknowledged in his May 9 chat with talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. "But you can shame the people who do business with them."

Brunei, a Muslim-majority country, had been ready to enforce a stricter version of Sharia law by putting sexual minorities to death, subjecting adulterous heterosexuals to stoning, and chopping off a hand or foot of those convicted of theft. The new penalties were to have come into force on Aprtil 3.

But Clooney refused to simply stand by and allow injustice to flourish in the name of religious doctrine. He penned an op-ed for Deadline in which he named nine hotels around the world owned by the Brunei Investment Agency. The message was clear: Brunei's ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who owns the Brunei Investment Agency, might be willing to listen to protests spoken in the language of money, especially if boycotts were aimed at his own holdings.

This was not Clooney's first call to boycott; as he mentioned to Ellen, several years ago, when the notion of implementing harsher penalties targeting LGTBQs was first floated in Brunei, he, Ellen herself, Elton John, and other celebrities issued a similar call. When Bolkiah reintroduced the idea and then announced it was going to go into effect, Clooney returned to the boycott idea.

After the new law went into effect on April 3, a worldwide backlash ensued. But it was the act of shining a light on the ties between Brunei and businesses in bed with that nation that seems to have worked, at least for the time being; earlier this month, Bolkiah announced a "moratorium" on the enhanced penalties. (It has long been the cast that gays can face decade-long imprisonment for having sex.)

As Clooney noted on his "Ellen" appearance, "when the banks and when the financial institutions started saying, 'We're out of the Brunei business,' then he backed off and put a moratorium on [the new law]."

Clooney also noted that the boycott "sends a warning shot over to countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, who are also considering these laws," and which might be less apt to impose stricter penalties on vulnerable groups if "the big banks... are gonna say, 'Don't - don't even get into that business."

Watch Clooney and Ellen's chat below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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