Georgia is the third largest production hub in the U.S. But an ideological fight between conservative politics and the Hollywood machine threatens to pull the rug out from under the Peach State’s production economy. In 2018, Georgia racked up $2.7 billion in revenues as a result of productions eager to take advantage of the state’s attractive tax credits and incentives. But a battle over abortion rights looms on the horizon. It goes beyond the statehouse and the studio lot and involves a vast number of industry workers dependent on the state’s production volume and revenues.
The Georgia “heartbeat bill,” which was signed on May 7 by Governor Brian Kemp, prohibits most abortions once doctors can discern a fetal heartbeat. The law is set to take effect in 2020 but faces a significant legal challenge that supporters hope will lead to a re-evaluation of Roe vs. Wade. Georgia is the fourth state this year to enact a so-called “fetal heartbeat law.” Its ties to Hollywood, however, has amplified the conversation.
Celebrity endorsements and promises to boycott have created a social media movement. Disney, WarnerMedia and Netflix have stated that they would reconsider filming in Georgia if the law stands. If the threat of losing Disney isn’t enough, streaming giant Netflix has committed to taking the fight beyond production and into the courtroom. In an interview with Variety, Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos remarked, “We will work with the ACLU and others to fight [the bill] in court.”
Studios and networks are taking public stands on hot-button political issues like never before. This is a risky proposition considering the current divisive political climate and the multitude of streaming options available to viewers, but one they obviously feel is worth the possible backlash.
National Politics, Local Problem
While the national conversation goes back and forth in the press, the boycott has already impacted many who work in the Georgia production industry. Many in this thriving workforce feel their livelihood is being held hostage by a political controversy for which they are not to blame. Those who oppose the legislation but work locally in Georgia are in a particularly hard place—caught between their personal convictions and everyday practicalities. They have some powerful allies though: former gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams, as well as Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, are imploring productions to stay in Georgia and to fund the legal challenges as a means of having their voices heard. Their hope is that production stays in Georgia and that the workers help elect new leadership. It should be noted that not all major companies have the conviction of Netflix and many are taking a wait-and-see approach.
Amazon and Lionsgate have already moved production out of Georgia. But that hasn’t deterred supporters of the legislation. A boycott alone won’t stop the bill, even if it does inflict economic damage. Georgia House of Representatives member—and co-author of the bill—Ed Setzler seems unfazed by the pressure from Hollywood studios and networks. “Georgia never thought to consult Hollywood for its scientific expertise or its command of constitutional law,” Setzler has stated.
Backers of the bill seek to discredit Hollywood as an institution of any moral leverage, drawing attention to its historically poor treatment of women in the industry and the “Times Up” movement. In some ways, the response from Hollywood can be seen as a referendum on the movement’s success, but is it more than a PR move?
The legislation faces numerous court challenges before it can take effect, and much of the already-scheduled production in Atlanta will proceed as planned. For the time being, there are thousands of industry workers continuing to wonder which side of the debate their fortunes will fall.