Hollywood’s predicament over how to handle the passage of Georgia’s Heartbeat Bill may have just gotten a whole lot easier this week thanks to ex-gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. While national media attention focuses on the wave of anti-abortion laws aimed at toppling Roe v. Wade, calls for Hollywood to boycott Georgia, the film/TV industry’s biggest production hub, have intensified.
Yesterday, in an interview with the LA Times, Abrams offered Hollywood an alternative to a boycott: Stay and help join the fight.
“Georgia is the only state that is such a deep part of the film industry that also has the type of draconian leadership that would seek to strip a woman’s autonomy in this way,” said Abrams. “That puts us in a unique position to fight back — not only against the legislation here but the legislation around the country — and to fund the defeat of these politicians and their horrible behavior by using the resources available through the entertainment industry.”
Abrams is urging opponents of Georgia’s Heartbeat bill to donate to organizations on the ground fighting the battle both politically and in the courts. It’s a path JJ Abrams and Jordan Peele took with their new series “Lovecraft Country,” for which the two producers will be donating their episodic fees to the ACLU of Georgia and Fair Fight Georgia. A move, noted in the press release, that was intended to “stand with Stacey Abrams and the hardworking people of Georgia.”
Five days after JJ Abrams and Peele’s hasty Friday night announcement, forced by being in the uncomfortable position of starting production this week amidst the rising controversy, Stacey Abrams laid out her argument against a boycott. Noting as a “daughter of the South” she is well aware how effective boycotts were during the Civil Rights era, but that Georgia — where more than 60 percent of voters support abortion rights and the state is rapidly moving from red to purple — was uniquely situated politically to push back against Republicans trying to end abortion rights.
“While I understand the calls for a boycott in Georgia, I’m going to follow a different path,” said Abrams. “I think the superior opportunity for Georgia, in the specific, is to actually use the entertainment industry’s energy to support and fund the work that we need to do on the ground because Georgia is on the cusp of being able to transform our political system.”
Hollywood’s silence in late March, when Georgia Republicans pushed the Heartbeat Bill through the legislature may have been timidity driven by economic self-interest. Of the $2.7 billion Hollywood spends yearly in the state, $800 million comes back in the form of the highest yielding, uncapped tax incentive program for Film/TV in the United States. Efforts to leverage that economic influence, as it had in the past in Georgia, were weak, especially when HB481 faced an existential threat not getting through the state assembly.
Atlanta in "The Walking Dead"
Now that the bill has been signed, Hollywood’s silence is far more complicated. The national spotlight on how the industry will react and calls for a boycott both intensify. Yet against this backdrop, there are those who believe it is too late for Hollywood to use its economic leverage in the state in the form of a boycott. The time has passed to influence how state politicians will vote, as the battle over HB 481 moves to the courts. Concern now is that an over-reaction would hurt those who are part of Georgia’s diverse film community, in addition to Hollywood’s economic bottom line and production schedule.
A group called “women of the film & media industry in Georgia” are making this point with a petition calling on Hollywood to keep production in the state.
“We’ve been building up our individual careers for years, and many of us are active in various industry organizations, uniting to ride the ups and downs that so many of us experience in this business,” reads the petition. “To those who choose not to come to Georgia because of the actions of our government, we understand your reasoning. But please know this: Georgia’s hardworking women and many men in this industry will continue to be the resistance from the inside. With our voices, our art, and our daily boots on the ground, we’ll keep working for the leadership we deserve. Your condemnation is understandable, but what we really need most is allies.”
That Abrams is backing this idea of Hollywood staying and being part of the resistance within the state is important. Not only is Abrams the highest profile Democrat in the state, she has a growing national profile (not having ruled out a run for President in 2020) and is beloved in the entertainment industry — Oprah and Will Ferrell showed up in Georgia to go door-to-door to campaign for her run for governor, which she lost by a razor thin margin in November. That Abrams is telling the industry it should focus on the next stage of the fight gives Hollywood motivation to stay in the state.
“The only long-term solution to the crisis we’re facing now is to anticipate what will come next,” said Abrams. “And what will come next are elections, in 2020 and 2022. What will come next is litigation. And in both of those places, investment in the groups on the ground doing this work is the strongest play that we have to make certain that we can protect the rights of all.”
In that sense, Abrams has credibility in offering potentially the best path to hurting those Republicans in Georgia who back the Heartbeat Bill: Vote them out. Before running for governor, Abrams was the founder of the New Georgia Project, an effective voter registration campaign. Following her election loss — which, in part, was due to her opponent, former Sec of State Brian Kemp, shedding tens of thousands of minorities from the voter rolls — Abrams has put her energy in fighting voter suppression through Fair Fight Georgia, one of the two organizations she is calling on Hollywood to donate to.
Yesterday, in a New York Times Op-Ed, Abrams laid out how rampant voter suppression has become and why now is the time to fight against it.
“I redoubled my commitment to voting rights and started a nonprofit called Fair Fight Action to harness the commitment and urgency of Georgians who reported, by a 52 percent margin, that they believe suppression affected 2018 election outcomes,” wrote Abrams. “Facing an existential crisis of democracy, Americans cannot resign ourselves to disenfranchisement and dismay. We must find hope in the energy of voters who supported access to health care, economic opportunity and high-quality public education in record numbers.”