Muted Hollywood response to Georgia’s ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban shows how much studios have to lose
Three years ago, Hollywood studios came out in force against anti-gay legislation in Georgia. Walt Disney Co., Netflix Inc. and others threatened to stop producing in the state if it enacted a law that would allow companies to deny services to people on religious grounds. Georgia’s then-governor, Nathan Deal, vetoed the bill.
But the entertainment industry’s response to the same state’s new, restrictive abortion law has been relatively muted after Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday signed a bill banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That can be as early as six weeks, which is before many women know they’re pregnant.
“The Wire” creator David Simon and “First Reformed” producer Christine Vachon vowed to boycott filming in Georgia, and some celebrities have criticized the law.
“Don’t give your business to Georgia,” actor Mark Duplass tweeted. “Will you pledge with me not to film anything in Georgia until they reverse this backwards legislation?”
But the major film studios on Thursday did not respond to requests for comment or deferred to a statement from their trade group, the Motion Picture Assn. of America, which said it will “monitor developments.”
Hollywood has a lot to lose in Georgia
Calling Georgia the “Hollywood of the South,” as it is sometimes described, is arguably an understatement. The state hosted 15 of the 100 highest-grossing domestic films in 2017 and 17 of the top 100 in 2016, making it the top U.S. state, according to the latest data from FilmLA. Georgia far surpassed California in both years.
The state 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. And the credits apply not only to production costs but also to actors’ salaries, which are a big line item.
What’s more, Georgia has significant infrastructure in place to support filmmaking, with 60 soundstages and 1.2 million square feet of stage space, according to FilmLA. It’s home to massive Pinewood Atlanta Studios, which operates 18 soundstages in Fayetteville.
Studios have flocked to the Peach State in a big way.
Georgia is the shooting home of Marvel Studios blockbusters, including “Avengers: Endgame” and “Black Panther,” as well as Legendary and Warner Bros.’ upcoming “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” 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. “Madea” writer-producer-director Tyler Perry’s company is based in the state, operating out of a massive studio on a former Army base in Atlanta.
Abortion is a unique issue for businesses
When Disney and others pushed back against Georgia’s religious freedom bill, they denounced the proposed law as discriminatory in ways that would affect their LGBTQ employees. Although Americans have become more supportive of LGBTQ rights over the years, opinions on abortion have changed little over time, according to polling by Gallup and Pew Research Center.
According to Pew data, 58% say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 37% say it should be illegal in all or most cases, a split similar to numbers from two decades ago.
Any company that takes a strong stance on Georgia’s abortion law risks alienating thousands of employees who are antiabortion.
It’s in the courts’ hands now
Given the political land mines and economic incentives, studios appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach as the battle plays out in the legal system.
As the MPAA noted in its statement, entertainment is an important economic engine for Georgia. The film and TV industry there generated $9.5 billion in spending in fiscal 2017, up from $240 million in 2007, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
“Film and television production in Georgia supports more than 92,000 jobs and brings significant economic benefits to communities and families,” the MPAA said. “It is important to remember that similar legislation has been attempted in other states, and has either been enjoined by the courts or is currently being challenged. The outcome in Georgia will also be determined through the legal process.”
Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union has already promised to challenge the law in court. “We’re suing Georgia because the only person who should have the power to decide whether you need an abortion is you,” the organization tweeted Wednesday.
Georgia is the fourth state to sign such “heartbeat abortion” bans into law this year. A federal judge temporarily blocked Kentucky’s after it was signed in March.
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