During the weeks after Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a new restrictive abortion law, it appeared the top corporate figures in Hollywood were prepared to sit on the sidelines as the court system wrangles with the matter.
With its generous tax incentives, Georgia has become a filmmaking hub, hosting blockbuster films such as Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” and shows such as Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” With so much at stake, none of the industry’s top decision-makers seemed willing to take much of a stand.
That began to change this week.
Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos recently told Variety that the Los Gatos, Calif., company would rethink its “entire investment” in Georgia if the law went into effect in January as projected. Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger on Wednesday told Reuters it would be “very difficult” for the Burbank giant to continue filming in the Peach State, a potentially devastating blow given how many Marvel films have shot in Georgia. And on Thursday, NBCUniversal, CBS/Showtime, and WarnerMedia, the AT&T-owned parent of Warner Bros., HBO and Atlanta-based CNN, put out their own statements on the divisive issue.
“We will watch the situation closely and if the new law holds, we will reconsider Georgia as the home to any new productions,” WarnerMedia said in an emailed statement. “As is always the case, we will work closely with our production partners and talent to determine how and where to shoot any given project.”
To be clear, each company’s statement includes the same set of caveats. None of the corporations has actually committed to boycotting Georgia, but only to reconsider their work there. Plus, they’ve only said they will potentially take action if the law survives what are expected to be significant court challenges.
And Warner’s statement suggests it will rethink only “new” productions in Georgia, saying nothing of projects that are currently filming in the state or are already committed to doing so.
Likewise, NBCUniversal, owned by Comcast Corp., said Thursday that if “any of these laws are upheld, it would strongly impact our decision-making on where we produce content in the future.”
It’s a far cry from the full-on boycott some activists have demanded. Yet, the various statements represent a notable shift, or at least a breaking of the silence.
So what changed the calculus?
Some insiders say the studios have been facing real pressure from talent — meaning actors, producers and directors — to take some kind of action. Producers such as David Simon, who made “The Wire” and “The Deuce” for HBO, have been vocal about the issue online. Nina Jacobson, whose “Hunger Games” movies shot in Georgia for Lionsgate, has also pledged to no longer take projects there.
The companies also have to take their employees into account. Iger, in his comments, cited “people who work for us” as a primary reason for wanting to no longer film in the state, describing it as a matter of practicality.
“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,” he said. “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.
It remains to be seen who else will follow the lead of Netflix, Disney and WarnerMedia after they broke the ice, or what effect the threats will have, if any.
Multiple states, including Alabama, have recently passed restrictive abortion laws in direct challenges to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade, which protected a woman’s right to terminate pregnancies.
Also, not every filmmaker will want to exit Georgia over the abortion law. J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele, who are making the series “Lovecraft Country” for HBO, instead opted to stay and donate “episodic fees” to the abortion rights cause. It seems unlikely that Clint Eastwood’s upcoming project “The Ballad of Richard Jewell,” which centers on the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing, would film in another state.
One consideration is the effect any boycott would have on Georgia’s film workers. Entertainment production in the state supports some 92,000 jobs, according to the Motion Picture Assn. of America.
Some female workers in the state worry that a studio boycott would harm them more than it would help them.