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Deadpool is causing a fight over Utah's liquor laws, with the help of Ryan Reynolds

Why having a beer and watching an R-rated film can violate Utah's law

The Associated Press is reporting that undercover agents in Salt Lake City attended a showing of the film Deadpool at a local movie theater that also served alcohol. The establishment now faces up to $25,000 in fines and could lose its liquor license.

The theater has since set up a gofundme page and has raised, at the time of writing, $17,352 out of its $75,000 goal. $5,000 of that came from Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds himself.

"Brewvies was founded in 1997 with the purpose of providing a fun, unique atmosphere for adults 21 and over to enjoy great films, food and drink," the company's gofundme page states. "Brewvies has never had a liquor violation, and has never shown obscene films."

The money will go towards the theater's legal fees to fight being targeted by a statute that "violates our freedom of speech," the page explains.

So what's exactly going on here?

The odd case of Utah's liquor laws

"For years Brewveis has dealt with the oppressive Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The DABC has threatened to fine us or suspend or revoke our liquor license, just for showing R-rated films like Deadpool, Hangover 2, Magic Mike XXL and Ted 2. We are fighting for the State of Utah to respect our First Amendment freedom of speech," the company claims.

The cinema is being targeted by a law that was designed to target strip clubs, but which can also apply to movie theaters.

"The state says playing Deadpool while serving booze violates Utah law because the movie includes nudity and simulated sex, including a suggestive scene in the film's credits involving a cartoon unicorn," The AP reports. "The obscenity law is generally used to regulate strip clubs, which are required to have dancers wear G-strings and pasties if the club serves liquor."

We looked up Utah's liquor laws, and they're rather matter-of-fact about the situation. "The following attire and conduct on premises or at an event regulated by the commission under this title are considered contrary to the public health, peace, safety, welfare, and morals, and are prohibited," the law states.

These are some of the prohibited acts, with the "premises" being the business that is serving alcohol.

Showing a film, still picture, electronic reproduction, or other visual reproduction depicting:

  • (a) an act or simulated act of:
  • (i) sexual intercourse;
  • (ii) masturbation;
  • (iii) sodomy;
  • (iv) bestiality;
  • (v) oral copulation;
  • (vi) flagellation; or
  • (vii) a sexual act that is prohibited by Utah law;
  • (b) a person being touched, caressed, or fondled on the breast, buttocks, anus, or genitals;
  • (c) a scene wherein an artificial device or inanimate object is employed to depict, or a drawing is employed to portray, an act prohibited by this section; or
  • (d) a scene wherein a person displays the genitals or anus.

That wording restricts all sorts of content that isn't exactly rare in modern R-rated films, and Deadpool is frank about its depictions of physical intimacy.

"Its sexual content has been well-regarded by feminist critics for being honest and non-judgmental," a previous Polygon opinion post stated. "The kind of sex-positivity depicted by Deadpool's primary couple — the hero is dating a sex worker who's proud of her work and not shamed for it! — is unique in the superhero genre, let alone Hollywood." You can also read our full review of the film.

This isn't the first time the state's somewhat draconian liquor laws have caused embarrassment.

"...The state continues to struggle with the misperception nationally that its arcane liquor laws make it impossible to get a drink, [Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake] says, acknowledging that there are still some quirks that help perpetuate that reputation," The Salt Lake Tribune reported in late 2015.

"For example, guests can't order a Bloody Mary or mimosa on a Sunday morning before 10 a.m. Guests at a hotel restaurant can't take a glass of wine across the lobby or up to their room. And requiring restaurant patrons to order food — the so-called 'intent to dine' — continues to be a problem," the story continues.

The theater may have to argue the law itself is unconstitutional if the complaint isn't dropped. Deadpool certainly contains depictions of acts that are banned under the current wording of the liquor law.

"This is a fight that is important to all individuals 21 and over who cherish their freedom of speech," the Brewvies gofundme page says. "We are ready to fight back. We are grateful for any support you can provide."

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