Hollywood Had a Chance to Stop Georgia’s Heartbeat Bill

Hollywood's most powerful advocates for women squandered their chance to lead on this issue, and now it's time to listen and reflect.
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Atlanta in "The Walking Dead"
Atlanta in "The Walking Dead"

If Hollywood was going to leverage the influence of the $2.7 billion it spends a year in Georgia, it was between March 22 and 29. The State Senate passed the Heartbeat Bill with a party-line vote of 34-18 on March 22; for the next week, the bill’s survival was on the line with the state legislature as the last line of defense. Newly elected Governor Kemp’s signature was assured, but in the Georgia Assembly the margin was razor thin. Ultimately, the bill passed by one vote on March 29: 92 votes, when 91 were required. Six Republicans jumped ship and opposed the bill.

There were those who did their best to beat a path for activism. Actress Alyssa Milano launched her efforts to get Hollywood to sign a letter threatening to boycott on the 22nd. Stacey Abrams, the 2018 gubernatorial candidate for whom Oprah and Will Ferrell literally went door to door campaigning for in the fall, quickly took to social media using Milano’s efforts to warn legislators of the consequences of passing HB481. Women protesting the bill on State Capitol steps wore outfits from the Emmy-winning “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Meanwhile, executives from Amazon and Coca-Cola sounded the alarms over the Heartbeat Bill’s passage and State Rep. Ed Setzler delayed votes, admitting that support of the legislation he sponsored was teetering and bemoaned that Georgian Republicans were starting to “bellyache” over the upcoming vote.

Exerting influence is about leverage and timing, things Hollywood knows well, so why did it give legislators Pepto-Bismol? HB 481 lost momentum in this period; while the WGA condemned HB481 and 100 prominent Hollywood names, mostly actors, signed Milano’s letter, household brands like Disney, Netflix, and Marvel remained mum.

In 2016, when then-Georgia Governor Nathan Deal was queasy about a piece of anti-LGBTQ legislation that had just hit his desk, Hollywood corporations like Disney, Netflix, Sony, and Time Warner let it be known that their business was on the line. Four days later, Deal vetoed the bill.

Marvel is only one of dozens of movies and TV series that shoot in Georgia, but one way Disney was able to stem the rising tide of Avengers’ salaries was Georgia’s unique 30 percent rebate on above-the-line costs worth hundreds of millions to the studio. The day after the legislature passed HB481, “Endgame” shattered pre-ticket sale records and its first female-led superhero film, “Captain Marvel,” crossed $1 billion at the box office.

Imagine if Captain America lifted his shield to defend a woman’s right to choose. Imagine if the all-woman army in “Black Panther” pounded their sonic spears to call attention to the fact most women don’t know they are even pregnant at six weeks, or that the bill called for doctors to face felony prison time of up to 99 years. Imagine if sexual assault survivors’ advocate Brie Larson (who did sign Milano’s letter) highlighted that the bill’s rape exception required a police report be filed well ahead of time. Imagine if Kevin Feige, while taking a bow for Marvel’s newfound inclusionary ways, stated he could not ask the women of Marvel to work in a state that stripped them of their constitutional rights.

“Black Panther”Marvel

More than a month later, the leadership void continues to be filled by Milano, whose #SexStrike proposal is now how the world views Hollywood’s response to the issue. Pressure to speak out on the Heartbeat Bill is mounting, but there are no good options for the entertainment industry in Georgia. A boycott threat won’t impact the politicians, and since there’s a distinct possibility the Heartbeat Bill will get bottled up in the courts indefinitely, this has left many to wonder if a strike wouldn’t do more damage than good: Those at the greatest risk of impact are the crew members, many of whom moved their families and businesses to Georgia to help fulfill a strategy that saved Hollywood billions.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marvel Entertainment/Perception/Spi/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5886261m) Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans Captain America - The Winter Soldier - 2014 Director: Anthony/Russo Russo Marvel Entertainment/Perception/Spi USA On/Off Set Captain America, le soldat de l'hiver

JJ Abrams and Jordan Peele’s cautious move of starting production this week on “Lovecraft Country” in Georgia — donating their episodic fees to organizations fighting HB481, and consulting with Stacey Abrams about how best to have a positive influence on Georgia — might actually be practical at this moment. It’s nice to know Hollywood didn’t lose Abrams’ phone number, though she could have used the support seven weeks ago when she needed their help, not the other way around.

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