There will be no “Halo” for Shelter Island officials in the eyes of one resident who is suing the town and officials over what he calls unequal treatment for allowing Beyoncé Knowles-Carter to film at Sylvester Manor Educational Farm on “sacred lands.”
A former slaveholding plantation, Sylvester Manor is now a nonprofit organization that is home to an organic farm and an arts and education center. At least 200 enslaved Africans and Manhasset Indians are buried on the 240-acre former plantation.
“And so I was deeply offended when I learned that the manor took money from Disney to allow the film Black Is King starring Beyoncé to be secretly filmed on what is without argument wholly sacred ground,” Mike Gaynor wrote on TheShelterIslandWay.com, a website he set up to explain the suit that he filed in New York State Supreme Court on September 22.
In August 2019, Beyoncé released the visual album, which was said to celebrate and pay homage to the Black experience. She also filmed at Guild Hall in East Hampton during the museum’s Ugo Rondinone exhibition.
“Beyoncé and her dancers performing on the land of the manor paid tribute to the ancestors of Sylvester Manor, invoking their spirits and celebrating their heritage,” Sylvester Manor Curator and Archivist Donnamarie Barnes said in a press release at the time.
But, Gaynor contends it was an inappropriate place to “film a dance-off,” he said on his website. “I’m sorry, it’s just not done. I’ll spare you the web research—because I’ve done it—and nobody has ever filmed a music video at Auschwitz or Arlington National Cemetery, either.”
Gaynor is no stranger to town officials. He came under fire in recent years after he cleared pine trees on his Cobbetts Lane property to build a house and horse barn and claims he has been the target of harassment by Shelter Island Town officials and some neighbors, as well as the local newspaper. He said he has had enough of what he called a pattern of unequal treatment.
Until recently, Gaynor, who lives adjacent to the Sylvester Manor, had supported the organization, donating $30,000 “just to help keep their lights on.” In the suit, Gaynor claims Disney paid the manor “a substantial fee to use its property as a film location.”
Setting aside the ethical argument, Gaynor said filming at the Sylvester Manor requires a permit. In fact, Shelter Island Town denied a permit request for HBO’s The Undoing, starring Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman, just several months earlier.
Town Supervisor Gerry Siller told The New York Post that town officials knew nothing of the film shoot until reading about it in The Shelter Island Reporter when the film was released. He said leaders at Sylvester Manor have since apologized for there being no permit in place. The permit fee was then paid in full, and no fine issued.
“Shelter Island and Sylvester Manor does not deserve to be pimped out as a cheap back drop so that Disney+ can ramp up its subscriber base by a few million people at $6.99 a pop/mo.,” he wrote. Black Is King can only been seen on the Disney+ service.
Gaynor’s attorney, Alex Kreigsman, received a call soon after the suit was filed from a partner at Mayer Brown, an international law firm that specializes in white collar crimes, who said they were representing the board of directors at Sylvester Manor. The partner, Gina Parlovecchio, a former Assistant United States District Attorney, led the prosecution of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera. It has left Gaynor asking, “What the hell is going on at Sylvester Manor?”