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Disney may ditch Georgia over abortion law, Bob Iger says. Is Hollywood’s reticence over?

Disney may ditch Georgia over abortion law, Bob Iger says. Is Hollywood’s reticence over?
Walt Disney Co. CEO Robert Iger, seen at the official unveiling of Star Wars: Galaxy'€™s Edge on Wednesday, says, "€œI don't see how it's practical for us to continue to shoot"€ in Georgia if the state's antiabortion law takes effect. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Georgia’s long-standing and lucrative relationship with the Walt Disney Co. could be headed for a break-up over the state’s new, restrictive abortion law.

For years Georgia has been a vital production hub for a string of Marvel Studios blockbusters because of its rich tax incentives and state-of-the-art studio facilities. Disney films such as “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Endgame” filmed there.

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But on Wednesday, Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger signaled that the Burbank entertainment giant would be prepared to pull its business from the Peach state if its antiabortion law takes effect. In an interview with news service Reuters, Iger said it would be “very difficult” to continue filming in Georgia if the abortion law is implemented in January as planned. He cited Disney employees in his remarks.

“I rather doubt we will,” Iger said. “I think many people who work for us will not want to work there, and we will have to heed their wishes in that regard. Right now we are watching it very carefully.”

He added, “I don’t see how it’s practical for us to continue to shoot there” if the law takes effect.

Disney did not respond to a request for further comment.

Iger is the most powerful Hollywood figure yet to make a strong statement on the Georgia law, signed earlier this month by Gov. Brian Kemp, which bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. (That can be as early as six weeks, before many women know they’re pregnant.) Georgia is one of many states that have recently passed antiabortion laws meant to eventually challenge Roe vs. Wade at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Studios have a lot to lose if they bail out of Georgia. The state is known as the “Hollywood of the South” and is attractive to studios because it offers ideal weather and tax credits of up to 30% for films, television shows and digital features that are shot there. The state hosts an average of 30 to 40 productions at any given time, including Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and AMC’s hit series “The Walking Dead,” according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

With so much at stake, the largely liberal entertainment industry’s response to Georgia’s law has been surprisingly muted so far. Despite calls for a broader production boycott, the business’ reaction has paled in comparison to earlier threats to abandon Georgia because of a 2016 religious freedom bill that was viewed as anti-gay.

But pressure has been mounting on Disney and other studios to take a position. Several producers, including Mark Duplass, Nina Jacobson and David Simon, pledged to not film in the state. Other big-name producers, including J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele, who are making the show “Lovecraft Country” for HBO in Georgia, said they would continue their productions there, but donate “episodic fees” to organizations fighting the abortion ban.

The Motion Picture Assn. of America, the trade group that represents the studios, said it would “monitor developments,” and it appeared that most companies were taking a wait-and-see approach as the new abortion laws faced court challenges.

However, it appears that some of the industry’s reticence is beginning to abate.

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, in a statement to Variety, also raised the prospect of leaving Georgia if the law survives the courts.

“We have many women working on productions in Georgia, whose rights, along with millions of others, will be severely restricted by this law,” Sarandos said. “Should it ever come into effect, we’d rethink our entire investment in Georgia.”

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