Hollywood Makes Case for Staying Put in Georgia as Film Industry Braces for Anti-Abortion Fight – Variety

Hollywood Makes Case for Staying Put in Georgia as Film Industry Braces for Anti-Abortion Fight - Variety

Hollywoods big players stay quiet on Georgia abortion law

Matt Donnelly Senior Film Writer @MattDonnelly FOLLOW Matt's Most Recent Stories ‘BH90210’ Showrunner, Multiple Writers Quit Fox Series Revival (EXCLUSIVE) Hollywood Makes Case for Staying Put in Georgia as Film Industry Braces for Anti-Abortion Fight Layoffs Hit Both Disney and Fox Film Groups (EXCLUSIVE) View All Facebook Twitter Reddit Email Show more sharing options LinkedIn WhatsApp Print Pin It Tumblr CREDIT: Shutterstock As incendiary anti-abortion legislation continues to roll out in states across the nation, Hollywood is under increased scrutiny to weigh in on a social issue that could affect thousands of jobs and steep financial investment. As many powerful content makers continue to wait and see how political fallout breaks, a handful of bold-named entities have committed to stay and fight the legislation.

The gesture has won over local film industry workers in Georgia, particularly women, numerous executives and knowledgeable insiders told Variety. Pledges from J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele (shooting HBO’s “Lovecraft Country”) and Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping (the film trilogy “Fear Street” and series “P-Valley”) to donate money to local groups fighting the state’s “heartbeat bill” have inspired crews to follow suit.

Yesterday, in an interview with the LA Times, Abrams offered Hollywood an alternative to a boycott: Stay and help join the fight.

“The response on the ground has been incredibly gratifying,” Chernin, CEO of the Chernin Group, said. “On the ‘Fear Street’ set, a number of women staff have given incredible feedback. Departments like the camera people on ‘P-Valley’ are starting a crowdfunding campaign to give to the ACLU as we have.”

TV and movie industries largely ignore call for a boycott on filming in Georgia over the states heartbeat abortion law; reaction and analysis on The Five.

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Georgia and Hollywood are worlds away from one another, physically and culturally, but irresistible tax incentives have turned the state into a filming powerhouse dubbed "Hollywood of the South." Productions as big as Marvel Studios' superhero blockbusters and shows like "Stranger Things" and "The Walking Dead" call the state home base, and some have not shied away from throwing their weight around when values clash with proposed laws.

Video: Jason Bateman speaks out against Georgia abortion bill

But in the week since Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law one of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws, none of the major film or television studios have commented on the issue or altered production plans. The backlash has been limited to smaller production companies, like Color Force ("Crazy Rich Asians"), Killer Films ("First Reformed"), "The Wire" creator David Simon of Blown Deadline Productions (HBO's "The Deuce") and the Duplass Brothers Productions (HBO's "Room 104"). Some actors and actresses, like Alyssa Milano, Mark Hamill and Mandy Moore, have suggested they will boycott filming in the state.

Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, meanwhile, are proceeding with plans to shoot their HBO show "Lovecraft County" in Georgia in the next few weeks, but have said that they will donate 100 percent their "episodic fees" to organizations fighting the law including the ACLU of Georgia and Fair Fight Georgia.

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The muted reaction is in striking contrast to what happened just three years ago when Netflix and Disney threatened to pull productions if a law allowing faith-based refusal of services to LGBTQ persons was passed. Other companies also publicly denounced that proposed law, including AMC, Time Warner, Lionsgate, Sony, NBC Universal and CBS.

When asked about a senate bid, she said it wasn't her "calling." "I'm going to help make certain a Democratic senator is elected in the state of Georgia but I do not believe that you run for office simply because the office is there — even one as crucial as the U.S. Senate," she said.

Georgia's "heartbeat bill" would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. Unless it's blocked in court, it is set to go into effect in 2020. The ACLU has already said the group will mount a legal challenge.

Her comments came as fellow Democrats defended Abrams, indicating that she unfairly lost her gubernatorial bid against Brian Kemp in 2018. Abrams refused to concede and indicated that the results weren't "right and true and proper."

"Film and television production in Georgia supports more than 92,000 jobs and brings significant economic benefits to communities and families," said Chris Ortman, a spokesman for the industry lobbying group The Motion Picture Association of America in a statement last week. "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."

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Some believe knowing they still have time until 2020 is part of the reason big entertainment industry players haven't spoken out yet. Another is that for some the issue intersects with religious beliefs and few companies want to wade into that territory. Others point to resistance to boycotts among critics of the law in Georgia.

Another highly publicized protest has come in the form of a Hollywood boycott on TV and film production in the state of Georgia, with aims to hurt the state government financially. Currently, major Hollywood studios spend several billion dollars in Georgia each year due in large part to the generous tax breaks the state offers. Withholding that steady cash flow into the state would, these boycotters believe, persuade Georgia legislators to rethink their decision to pass anti-abortion legislation. The problem here, however, is that those who will likely be most impacted by such a boycott are the lower-income, already marginalized folks who might depend upon TV and film production jobs to get by—not the Republican senators who are calling the shots. NARAL Pro-Choice Georgia is one of the many local groups that are opposed to the boycott, which they argue could cause more harm than good.

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Matt Donnelly, a senior film writer for the Hollywood trade Variety, noted that the same day some called for boycotts, there were also a "wave of stories that it had fizzled out" in part because of pledges like the one Abrams and Peele made to donate money but keep production in the state.

Failing to do so could lead to catastrophic outcomes, a la the Womens March fiasco, the much-maligned 2018 Golden Globes red carpet protest, or any other number of movements wherein those who are most directly impacted are sidelined so that big name, armchair activists can swoop in to deliver a noble but ineffective, or even harmful, solution. No doubt that the ripple effect of the Alabama abortion bill or the Georgia bill or the Ohio bill before that will impact people nationwide when the case inevitably gets taken up to the Supreme Court, but for the time being, if the intent is truly to help those who are made most vulnerable by these policy changes, then itll be necessary to listen first before forging ahead with grand gestures.

"That to me is a sort of murky pivot that allows people to keep their jobs and tax rebates and also seemingly support the cause," Donnelly said. "(It's) more of a solution for Hollywood than it is addressing the values and the morality the boycott raises for women across this industry."

Abrams makes a point of saying that neither Kemp nor Ivey's views reflect the majority of their constituents's beliefs in their states, nor the rest of the South. "Theres certainly conservatives who believe that the right to an abortion should not exist, but by and large the South is reflective of a national belief which is that women should have the right to control their bodies," she argues, repeating a statistic that 65 to 70 of Americans believe in the right to an abortion. She also made particular mention of Georgia's maternal mortality rates, especially that it has the "highest black woman maternal mortality rate in the nation," connecting the need for safe abortion access to the health of its most vulnerable citizens. "We cannot legislate health care away from women," she says. "This notion that there is a compromise position is a fiction."

The issue is bound to get only more complex, as the governor in neighboring Alabama on Wednesday signed the nation's most stringent anti-abortion measure into law . Louisiana, another favored filming venue that offers generous tax incentives, moved closer to approving its version of a fetal "heartbeat bill."

In her video message for NowThis, Abrams talks frankly about her religious upbringing, and evolving views on abortion. "I grew up in a religious family. I grew up believing that the right to an abortion was wrong. And I was wrong," she says. (Abrams's parents were both Methodist ministers.) She describes how once her views changed in college, she made fighting for abortion access a central part of her political career: "Not everyone makes the same decision, but every woman should have a choice. . .It is a choice that should belong to every woman and thats what were fighting for." She also references Kemp's anti-choice campaign platform: "He very clearly said that he wanted to pass the most draconian abortion law in the country, and he almost got there, unfortunately Alabama has usurped that position."

Kemp recently postponed an annual trip to promote his state's film industry in Los Angeles after Georgia film executives worried that protests and no-shows could taint the industry mixer, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.

Many Georgians, from politicians to the people who work on film sets, worry about the adverse effects of the law.

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Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost a contentious gubernatorial race against Kemp, tweeted Wednesday that she respects the calls for a boycott, "but I do not believe it is the most effective, strategic choice for change."

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Georgia's Democratic lawmakers have urged Hollywood to keep production in the state. Boycotts, some say, are not the response they're looking for.

The impact would not only be felt by actors, directors and writers but also by low-income Georgians and small businesses contracted to provide catering, maintenance and construction, said Crystal Redman, executive director of SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, a grassroots Georgia group that has advocated against the abortion law.

Molly Coffee, a film production designer in Georgia, helped start a petition with other women in the film industry urging Hollywood not to leave the state and emphasizing her commitment to fight the new abortion law.

"It's very easy, from California, to make a statement that you're not going to spend your dollars in Georgia," Coffee said. "It's important for people to ask the women of Georgia how they feel."

"I understand the power of a boycott but I'm not in favor of any Georgian losing their job because when women lose their jobs the first thing that goes is women's health care," Fox said. "They stop accessing birth control or stop getting pap smears and then we get in this loop where now we're facing unintended pregnancy."

Fox instead urged those with big platforms to remind Georgians that abortion is still legal, adding that the organization is getting hundreds of confused phone calls from concerned women.

Heather Hutton, a filmmaker in Georgia who started out working on set design for "The Walking Dead," said she would like to see Hollywood stay and fight.

"Women would like to see Hollywood stand next to us and fight with us because we don't have deep pockets like they do," she said.

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