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As Georgia Signs the Heartbeat Bill, Hollywood Shows Little Interest in Boycott

Why is Hollywood unwilling to stand for abortion rights like it did for LGTBQ rights in Georgia? The answer is complicated.

"The Walking Dead" films in Georgia

“The Walking Dead” films in Georgia

Jace Downs/AMC

On May 7, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp delivered on his promise to sign the “Heartbeat Bill” (HB 481), which outlaws most abortions once a doctor can detect a fetus’ heartbeat. Over 100 prominent names, mostly actors, warned the governor they would not shoot in Georgia, which has become a dominant production hub for film and TV, if HB 481 became law.

Yet on Tuesday afternoon, there was near silence on social media from those who signed actress Alyssa Milano’s March 28 letter threatening that boycott. On Instagram and Twitter, pro-female voices in Hollywood were more likely posting about last night’s Met Gala or Jessica Chastain’s criticism of the portrayal of rape in “Game of Thrones,” than Georgia’s abortion rights.

Georgia previously faced boycott threats over its anti-LGBTQ legislation in 2016, when HB 757 would have allowed faith-based organizations to deny services to LGBTQ individuals. Disney, Fox, Time Warner, Netflix and Sony publicly let then-Governor Deal know they’d pull out of the state should he sign the bill. At this writing, no productions have announced their intentions, on or off the record, to leave the state.

One filmmaker, still in early planning and just starting to scout locations, did indicate they would likely favor filming in a different tax-incentive state. In calling other productions, the most common refrain was, “Why, what are you hearing?” That best defines Hollywood’s reaction to Governor Kemp signing the bill: waiting to see if someone will lead the charge.

For those inclined to make a stand against the Heartbeat Bill, the issue of when is unclear. The film and TV industry has spent over a decade steadily building infrastructure in Atlanta that has allowed Hollywood to take full advantage of the state’s uncapped tax incentive. Unlike other states’ incentives, Georgia’s includes 30 percent back on above-the-line costs (like actors’ and directors’ salaries) in addition to below-the-line costs.

The law is scheduled to go into effect in January 2020, but there will inevitably be a court fight to block it. Said Andrea Young, executive director of ACLU Georgia, “We will see Governor Kemp in court.”

A similar 2016 six-week abortion law was overturned in North Dakota, as the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a woman’s right to an abortion until a fetus can live outside its mother’s womb. However, Georgia’s “Heartbeat Bill,” and others like it in Kentucky and Ohio, have set their sights upon the Supreme Court as pro-life states rush to be the first to test its willingness to challenge Roe v. Wade with the recent appointment of conservative Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

“Black Panther”

Marvel Studios

Sources tell IndieWire that they don’t know what a Georgia boycott could accomplish as this plays out in the courts. The ability to influence state politicians on this issue has passed. The impact would be on Hollywood itself, the vendors and crew that have relocated to the state, and its own bottom line. Hollywood brought more dollars back from Georgia ($800 million) during the 2018 fiscal year than the New York, New Mexico and California rebates combined.

When and if the law is in effect, sources said they suspect some studios may steer productions away from the state. In a WGA letter condemning HB 481 in March, the writers guild warned Kemp “this law would make Georgia an inhospitable place for those in the film and television industry to work.“ It’s a line that rings true to many working in production. Marvel might not announce an Atlanta boycott (it’s unlikely that Disney would want to be enmeshed in an abortion controversy) but they might avoid the conflict of asking Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson, who signed Milano’s letter, or the politically conscious “Black Panther” cast and crew, to work there.

While the first 24 hours after Kemp signed the Heartbeat Bill have brought a deafening silence, many point to how quickly this issue could snowball if key A-list talent announce they are unwilling to work in Georgia. In the meantime, Hollywood is looking over its shoulder waiting to see who might make a public stand.

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