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Georgia’s Abortion Dilemma: Why Hollywood Can’t Do the Right Thing

Hollywood blew its chance to stop the “Heartbeat Bill.” Now it’s left with imperfect options and an uncertain future in Georgia.

Hollywoods Georgia Abortion Dilemma

Jordan Peele, “The Walking Dead,” Stacey Abrams, Ted Sarandos, The Avengers and Reed Morano

Claudette Barius/AMC/Shutterstock/Marvel

Seven months after the Georgia GOP campaigned to drastically restrict abortion access; 11 weeks after the state legislature introduced the Heartbeat Bill; and 20-odd days after Governor Brian Kemp signed HB 481, making an abortion illegal after six weeks, Hollywood studios finally acknowledged that the state providing the nation’s most generous production incentives is also trying to strip women of their right to choose.

In response, Hollywood’s most powerful CEOs have declared… that they’re hedging their bets. Netflix is ready to “rethink” its investment in Georgia. WarnerMedia is preparing to “reconsider” shooting there. And Disney is “watching very carefully” to see if HB 481 goes into effect.

Jordan Peele JJ Abrams

Some filmmakers are not taking the wait-and-see approach. Director Reed Morano, actress Kristen Wiig, and producer Christine Vachon, among others, have said they will not shoot in Georgia. Producers Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams are donating their episodic fees from HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” which is shooting in Georgia, in a move intended to “stand with [Georgia Democratic leader] Stacey Abrams and the hardworking people of Georgia.”

“It feels wrong for a reason,” wrote Morano in an Instagram post about the decision to not shoot her upcoming Amazon series “The Power” in the state. “And it felt wrong to us to go ahead and make our show and take money/tax credit from a state that is taking this stance on the abortion issue.”

While Hollywood is clearly pro-choice, it’s much more difficult to determine the appropriate response to this issue. Georgia has placed Hollywood on the horns of a dilemma — six of them, to be exact.

1. Of course it’s about the money.

Georgia is not the only state to offer Hollywood a 30 percent rebate on production costs; nor is it the only state that has the facilities, crew, and infrastructure to handle large number of major productions. However, unlike California, New Mexico, and New York, Georgia extends its (uncapped) kickback to above-the-line costs like the salaries of actors, producers, writers, and directors. In fiscal year 2018, the state hosted 455 film and TV productions, which spent $2.7 billion in the state and received $800 million in refunds — more than CA, NY, and NM combined.

Anthony Russo, Bob Iger and Joe Russo'Avengers: Endgame' Film Premiere, Arrivals, LA Convention Center, Los Angeles, USA - 22 Apr 2019

Anthony Russo, Bob Iger, and Joe Russo at the ‘Avengers: Endgame’ premiere

Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock

2. A boycott won’t stop the heartbeat bill…

Hollywood skipped the opportunity to leverage the billions it spends in Georgia to stop the Heartbeat Bill. The time for that was March 22-29, when HB 481 hit the state assembly and passed by only one vote. While 100 prominent Hollywood names, mostly actors, signed Alyssa Milano’s letter threatening to boycott the state, studios were silent when they had the ability to make a difference. A boycott now can’t impact the bill; its future is now for the courts to decide.

3. …but it could do a lot of damage.

While a boycott would be entirely ineffective in its ability to impact HB 481, it could do plenty of damage to the people who create Georgia’s diverse film community. The nonprofit Women In Film and Television Atlanta are circulating 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 WIFTA 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.”

Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks to supporters and refuses to concede at her election night headquarters, calling the race to close to call in the 2018 mid-term general election at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta Georgia USA, 06 November 2018. Abrams is facing Republican candidate Brian Kemp.Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams refuses to concede at her election night headquarters, Atlanta, USA - 06 Nov 2018

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams

TAMI CHAPPELL/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Abrams also supports the idea of Hollywood staying in Georgia and being part of the resistance. The 2018 gubernatorial candidate, who lost in an extremely close and contested election, believes Georgia — where 60 percent of its citizens are pro-choice and Republicans are in danger of losing their majority — is ground zero for the fight for 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.”

4. It’s unfair to ask women cast and crew to work in Georgia.

Georgia’s crew base has swelled over the last decade with homegrown talent and transplants, but most productions bring in a tremendous number of out-of-state crew and cast. There are many producers, directors, department heads, and executives, both on and off-the-record, who don’t feel it is right to asked women to work in Georgia until, as “The Wire” creator David Simon said, “[We] can be assured the health options and civil liberties of our female colleagues are unimpaired.”

While Simon has already stated his production company won’t shoot in Georgia, studios are waiting until the bill goes into effect to change course in the state. “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,” said Walt Disney Company chairman and CEO Bob Iger. “Right now, we are watching it very carefully.”

5. January 2020 probably isn’t the real deadline.

One the reason studios feel comfortable waiting to pull out of Georgia is no one knows when, or if, the law will go into effect. Based on previous Supreme Court decisions, the bill is unconstitutional and the courts will likely prevent HB 481 from taking effect in January 2020. What’s certain is that the bill, versions of which have passed in multiple states, will be used to see if the Supreme Court will take up the appeal and reverse Roe v Wade. The road and timeline to that point is unclear.

6. Hollywood’s wait-and-see approach is disingenuous at best.

It’s impossible for studios to watch the situation and address it at the same time because no production can simply pull up stakes and move the day HB 481 goes into effect.

Locations need to be scouted, planned for, and budgeted, cast and crew housed, equipment rented, soundstages reserved, and sets built. Good luck trying to book a premium New York stage for your blockbuster on short notice. In New Mexico, Netflix recently bought out the state’s big production facility in Albuquerque, ABQ Studios. In California, a production must apply for the state’s rebate program months in advance.

The Handmaid's Tale -- "Offred" -- Episode 101 -- Offred, one the few fertile women known as Handmaids in the oppressive Republic of Gilead, struggles to survive as a reproductive surrogate for a powerful Commander and his resentful wife. Behind the scenes with Moira (Samira Wiley) and Reed Morano, shown. (Photo by: George Kraychyk/Hulu)

Reed Morano directing “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Hulu

Other states offer attractive incentive programs, but many are severely capped; others, like Ohio or Louisiana, face the same abortion-rights issues. And few have the crew and infrastructure to handle a massive influx. If HB 481 went into effect in January, Disney couldn’t move “Black Panther 2” out of Atlanta without shutting down production and causing massive financial and scheduling problems.

In reality, European production centers could more easily absorb massive productions, while providing kickbacks. This, of course, shouldn’t be a problem for the hundreds of filmmakers who moved their families to Atlanta, where they’ve spent months prepping their world-building magic. Budapest, here we come.

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