Hollywood studios want to send a message to lawmakers in Georgia and other states restricting abortion access: We will take our business elsewhere.
The move is a reaction to a wave of new anti-abortion laws passed in states such as Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, Louisiana and Alabama. The so-called “heartbeat bill” outlaws abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks after conception and before many women even know they are pregnant.
Abortion rights activists say the law is a direct challenge to the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, and many commentators expect these laws to land before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the meantime, the laws are creating a problem for Hollywood producers, as creators and artists are promising to stop working in states where the law has been passed.
Netflix was the first Hollywood production company to speak out against Georgia’s abortion law.
“We have many women working on productions in Georgia, whose rights, along with millions of others, will be severely restricted by this law,” Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said Tuesday in a statement. “It’s why we will work with the ACLU and others to fight it in court. Given the legislation has not yet been implemented, we’ll continue to film there — while also supporting partners and artists who choose not to. Should it ever come into effect, we’d rethink our entire investment in Georgia.”
Thanks to generous state tax credits, Georgia has become a hub of film and TV production and employs some 90,000 people in the state. Since Gov. Brian Kemp signed the fetal-heartbeat bill on May 7, at least two productions — Amazon series The Power from Reed Morano, and Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s Lionsgate feature Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar — have said they will relocate their productions. Producers including David Simon, Christine Vachon, Mark Duplass, Neal Dodson and Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson have also said they will steer clear of the state for future productions.
Disney echoed those concerns.
Asked if Disney would keep filming in Georgia, Iger said it would be “very difficult to do so” if the abortion law is implemented.
“I rather doubt we will,” Iger said in an interview ahead of the dedication for a new “Star Wars” section at Disneyland. “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.”
If the law takes effect, “I don’t see how it’s practical for us to continue to shoot there,” he added.
Now many Hollywood producers are rethinking their investments in Georgia.
“We operate and produce work in many states and within several countries at any given time, and while that doesn’t mean we agree with every position taken by a state or country and their leaders, we do respect due process,” WarnerMedia said Thursday in a statement. “We will watch the situation closely, and if the new law holds we will reconsider Georgia as the home to any new productions. 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.”
WarnerMedia is currently filming The Conjuring 3 in the state and will soon shoot the Suicide Squad sequel there. On the television side, Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams’ show Lovecraft Country and The Outsider, executive produced by Jason Bateman, are both in production in Georgia for HBO.
Producers on the HBO shows shooting in the state have already weighed in on the law, which seeks to ban abortions once a “fetal heartbeat” is detected, as soon as six weeks. The bill includes exceptions for rape and incest — only if the mother files a police report and if her life is in danger. Abrams and Peele have pledged to donate their episodic fees for the first season to the ACLU of Georgia and Fair Fight Georgia, while Bateman has said that if the law remains in place, he won’t work in Georgia.
The statements’ authors have been careful to note that they expect and hope the laws will face legal challenges and won’t stay on the books. However, many studios promise to reconsider their investment in the state.
In its own statement Thursday, NBCUniversal said that the heartbeat bill, if actually enacted, would “strongly impact our decision-making” for production in the area. “We fully expect that the heartbeat bills and similar laws in various states will face serious legal challenges and will not go into effect while the process proceeds in court. If any of these laws are upheld, it would strongly impact our decision-making on where we produce our content in the future.”
AMC, which films its tentpole The Walking Dead in the state, also spoke up Thursday afternoon. “If this highly restrictive legislation goes into effect, we will reevaluate our activity in Georgia,” said a spokesperson. “Similar bills — some even more restrictive — have passed in multiple states and have been challenged. This is likely to be a long and complicated fight and we are watching it all very closely.”
Sony weighed in later in the day, as well. “As the MPAA has noted, the outcome of the Georgia ‘Heartbeat Law,’ and similar proposed legislation in other states, will be determined through the legal process,” said a Sony Pictures Entertainment spokesperson. “We will continue to monitor that process in close consultation with our filmmakers and television showrunners, talent and other stakeholders as we consider our future production options.”
CBS, which films MacGyver in the state, also chimed in. “Creative voices across our industry have expressed strong concern about the recently signed bill in Georgia. The ability to attract the best talent is the first step in producing great entertainment content and is always an important consideration in where we film any series,” said a rep for the company. “We are monitoring the legislative and legal developments in Georgia with the full expectation that the process in the courts will play out for some time. For now, we will continue producing our series based there that have production orders for next season. If the law takes effect in Georgia or elsewhere, these may not be viable locations for our future production.”
Another company to weigh in was Viacom. “We are closely monitoring the situation in Georgia and expect the legislation will be subject to significant legal challenges,” said a rep. “Should the new law ever take effect, we will assess whether we will continue to produce projects in Georgia.”
The boycott mirrors actions from major companies against North Carolina after that state passed a “bathroom bill” requiring transgender persons to use the bathroom of their birth gender, instead of the gender with which they identify.
Is taking such a strong stand a good move for corporations with wide audiences like Disney and Netflix?
Consumers say they want their favorite brands to take a stand on political issues. Couple that with polling that shows most Americans disapprove of these abortion laws, and the stance seems to make sense.
Also likely is that employees and showrunners are compelling companies to take a stand, as Hollywood has become more aligned with the #MeToo movement and other cultural changes. Employees are forcing many organizations to change their tune on a wide range of issues—notably Google, which saw employees stage a walkout in late 2018.
However, some pro-choice activists have an interest in deterring a Hollywood boycott.
Some prominent Georgia lawmakers, including former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, have pushed back on the potential effectiveness of a boycott. “While I support those who want to live their values by not bringing their resources here, I do not want to harm the citizens of Georgia who are doing this work,” she said on MSNBC.
On social media, some applauded the companies for speaking out.
Curious how much restricting a woman's autonomy over her own body is worth to Georgia lawmakers. WarnerMedia & Sony have joined Disney & Netflix in threatening to end production in the state if the abortion law goes into effect in January…That's billions in economic loss if so.
— Mina Radman (@radm29) May 30, 2019
— Mark Duplass (@MarkDuplass) May 30, 2019
Others were less impressed.
Remember, swords have 2 edges. Georgians could boycott films from companies that previously filmed in Georgia but stopped.
Disney should concentrate on making movies and stay out of moral issues. https://t.co/GsuE9wHxnd
— Wayne Smith (@WayneNC) May 30, 2019
What do you think of the companies’ statements, PR Daily readers?