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Column: Dear Hollywood: Next time, choose to film in Kansas

Abortion rights supporters cheer as the proposed Kansas constitutional amendment fails.
Abortion rights supporters cheer Tuesday in Overland Park, Kan., as the proposed Kansas constitutional amendment removing the right to an abortion fails.
(Dave Kaup / AFP via Getty Images)

Dear Hollywood,

Please start making things in Kansas now.

In the past week, 1,000 showrunners, oddly divided into gender groups, sent letters to top Hollywood executives demanding that specific protections be put in place for film and television production workers in states with draconian abortion laws. States including, though not limited to, Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, which for years have determinedly courted Hollywood production with sizable tax incentives.

Kansas offers no such subsidies at this time. What it does have, however, is a state constitutional amendment protecting women’s reproductive rights and a populace that just voted overwhelmingly, in the perilous aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade, to keep that amendment in place.

Various studios have vowed to cover expenses for employees who must travel in order to procure a safe and legal abortion, and that’s great (though it does raise serious privacy and logistical concerns). But if studios are really serious about protecting female cast and crew (or just supporting laws that treat women like human beings), and also in need of a place to film that looks like Middle America, why not choose, you know, Middle America.

“The Wizard of Oz” notwithstanding, Hollywood has ignored Kansas in a way that borders on insulting. No director has attempted to do for the state what, say, Alexander Payne (and Bruce Springsteen, sort of) did for Nebraska or what the Coen brothers did for Minnesota.

(To be fair, while they may slide “pull” into “pool” or “pen” into “pin,” Kansans don’t have the kind of instant-geolocation accent that Minnesotans have.)

Current conflict is the latest to reveal underlying tensions that have existed between Disney and religious conservatives for decades as it has embraced the LGBTQ community.

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Even in the “give me more CONTENT” reign of streaming, there have not been many movies or TV series set in the Sunflower State. Amy Poehler just announced she will be filming her new unscripted show “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” in Kansas City, where “Queer Eye” shot Seasons 3 and 4. (To be clear, KC straddles Kansas and Missouri and Missouri recently banned abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.) But the last big feature film set in Kansas may well have been “Man of Steel.” And it was shot in Canada.

Which is almost always the case with Kansas; even stories specifically set in the state wind up being shot somewhere else.

I am looking at you, “Somebody Somewhere,” an HBO comedy set in Kansas but shot in Illinois, and you, “The Good Lord Bird,” a Showtime limited series that revolves around the Border War in Kansas but was filmed in Virginia.

It probably isn’t fair to single them out (love you, “Somebody Somewhere”!), since Kansans have been snubbed by the industry for years.

Ironically, “we’re not in Kansas anymore” is perhaps the most famous phrase in which the state’s name is featured, but “The Wizard of Oz” was shot entirely on a Culver City soundstage. Though the 1967 film adaptation of that other Kansas-centric masterpiece, Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” used Kansas for Kansas, the 1996 miniseries was shot in Canada — as was Bennett Miller’s 2005 “Capote.”

As for “Smallville,” The CW’s signature series about a teenage Superman living in Kansas? Filmed in British Columbia, Canada.

Judy Garland as Dorothy in a fake cornfield in "The Wizard of Oz"
Judy Garland as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” not in Kansas anymore (because it was filmed in Culver City).
(Turner Classic Movies)

The 2009 adaptation of Thomas Frank’s 2004 bestseller “What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America” was shot in Kansas. But then it was a documentary. About Kansas. (And we could maybe use a sequel in light of recent events.)

A lot of factors go into deciding where this or that film or series should be filmed. Money is one of the big ones (hence the tax incentives) but so is the infrastructure — soundstages, a trained local workforce, accommodations for the cast and crew — and the variety of the landscape.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently reminded the entertainment industry that there’s no place like home, but excepting the tax incentives, Kansas also has all of these things and a lower cost of living.

Gov. Gavin Newsom touted California as a better place for Hollywood to do business compared with states such as Georgia that have antiabortion laws.

Also, its constitution grants women full autonomy over their own bodies. No pesky and invasive expense reports to file! Imagine the savings.

A few years ago, when Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the fetal-heartbeat law, I wrote a column suggesting — well, OK, demanding — that Hollywood get out of Georgia. Right away. In response, many Georgia women, in and out the film industry, told me I was only making matters worse, that a boycott would mostly hurt the very women I was hoping to protect. I know better than to argue with Georgia women, and I also know Hollywood; in the end, protest letters from angry creatives may make headlines, but money is always the loudest voice in any room.

So this is not me saying, “Boycott those states with laws that reduce women to state-controlled incubators,” because what is the point? Those states are literally paying Hollywood to stay there. And while on one level this seems morally bankrupt and generally, you know, gross, the blossoming of local film and TV industries in places like Atlanta; Austin, Texas; and New Orleans has been a beautiful thing. (And proof that the best way to get a trained local workforce is to stay around long enough to train people.)

And who knows? Maybe those local communities will help their states do what Kansas just did: Preserve, or reinstate, a woman’s right to control her own body.

So I’m not saying anything about Georgia, Texas or Louisiana. All I’m saying is why not have a look at Kansas? Everything is much cheaper than it is in L.A., and that should help the bottom line.

More important, if you’re going to bring dollars to local businesses and elevate the prestige of certain areas, why not do it in a state where you don’t need to request special protection for women of child-bearing age?

Why not do it in a state that just told the Supreme Court, “Do what you want; abortion is legal in Kansas.” A state that may have blazed a trail for all those states with trigger laws and institutionalized misogyny (starting perhaps with Missouri).

Instead of shuttling women in and out of states that do not consider them equal citizens, you could tell stories about Kansas, in Kansas.

What you sacrifice in tax subsidies, you’ll earn back in reproductive rights.

And if that’s not incentive enough, well, the barbecue is pretty great.


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