XXX Film Screening Spells Lost Money for University of Maryland After Senate Intervenes

By Susan Kinzie and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 3, 2009

Tickets were selling fast for Saturday night's showing of a "XXX blockbuster" at the University of Maryland's student union. (Pirates! Skeletons! An orgy of belly dancers!) Then, like a douse of cold water, the state Senate stepped in.

During debate yesterday over the state budget -- an exercise usually devoid of sex appeal -- a conservative senator drew his colleagues' attention to the scheduled showing of "Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge," a hard-core porn film, at the state's flagship university.

The award-winning sequel is almost 2 1/2 hours' worth of, uh, swashbuckling. The cast is full of actors whose names are registered trademarks. The film is full of special effects (to say the least).

Legislators were not impressed.

Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Baltimore County) called it "shocking" and offered a budget amendment: Any public university that allowed the screening of a triple-X film would forfeit state funding -- about $424 million next year in U-Md.'s case.

Administrators canceled the screening. And although some advocacy groups were relieved, many students were mad.

Not because of the porn, said Liz Ciavolino, a sophomore who is active in the student group Feminism Without Borders, but because of something she thought was worse: "I really don't think the state should bully us around with their budget power."

All the activities at the student union are funded by fees that students pay, not the state. The university did not pay for the movie and would have covered its costs with ticket sales.

Aaron Titus of the Maryland Coalition Against Pornography said that although the outcome was good, the reasons were wrong.

"The University of Maryland should be responding to the power of ideas, not the power of the purse," he said. "I would challenge the university to conduct a thorough inquiry into the harms of pornography."

Operators of the mostly student-run Hoff Theater said they were not trying to offend anyone. It has become increasingly difficult to compete with DVD rentals and illegal downloading, said Lisa Cunningham, the theater's program director. Students have been wanting to show a triple-X movie for some time, and she was waiting for one that wasn't too violent or degrading, one that had a plot.

The movie, produced by Digital Playground, has been marketed to colleges and has been shown at several across the nation without major controversy. There's also an edited, R-rated version available at major chains.

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