The third season of The Handmaid’s Tale may be a month away, but it already feels like it’s making headlines. More states have passed and signed legislation that makes it hard for women to get safe and legal abortions—including in Georgia, which has become a key state for the film industry. How are media companies like Disney, Warner Bros. and AMC handling this crisis? Largely, by not saying anything.
Netflix, one of a few outliers, released a statement to Variety today condemning Georgia’s “heartbeat bill,” which was signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp earlier this month. The law bans nearly all abortions after six weeks, including in the case of rape or incest, and is set to go into effect in 2020. This law would impact thousands of people in a state that’s added a lot of jobs thanks to Hollywood’s expansion.
Many studios quickly rallied against the state in 2016 for the anti-LGBT “religious freedom bill,” which led to a governor’s veto. But this time around, most of the studios are staying silent. Over the last few weeks, io9 reached out to AMC, Netflix, Disney, and Warner Bros. for comment. AMC (which films The Walking Dead in Georgia) and Warner Bros. never responded, and we’re still waiting to hear from Disney. Netflix initially declined to comment, instead directing us to the Motion Picture Association of America’s statement, which was provided to io9:
Film and television production in Georgia supports more than 92,000 jobs and brings significant economic benefits to communities and families. It is important to remember that similar legislation has been attempted in other states, and has either been enjoined by the courts or is currently being challenged. The outcome in Georgia will also be determined through the legal process. We will continue to monitor developments.
However, a representative for Netflix has since told Variety it will “rethink” filming in Georgia in the future, should the law actually go into effect. Netflix has filmed some projects in the state, including the upcoming third season of Stranger Things. For now, the studio plans to continue filming in the state, but will monitor the situation and support its “partners and artists” who choose not to go there in response to the law:
We have many women working on productions in Georgia—whose rights, along with millions of others, will be severely restricted by this law. It’s why we will work with the ACLU and others to fight it in court. Given the legislation has not yet been implemented, we’ll continue to film there, while also supporting partners and artists who choose not to. Should it ever come into effect, we’d rethink our entire investment in Georgia.
Netflix has joined at least one other studio and some production companies in publicly speaking out against Georgia’s anti-abortion law. Bill Block, chief executive of Miramax (which was co-founded by alleged sexual predator Harvey Weinstein) recently announced the studio would avoid filming in Georgia in response to the law. Reed Morano’s (The Handmaid’s Tale) upcoming Amazon series The Power and Kristin Wiig’s feature film Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar have pulled out of the state.
Other productions are continuing to film there but will be donating proceeds to fighting the anti-abortion law. This includes Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy, along with the J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele HBO project Lovecraft Country, which combines the racism of 1950s Jim Crow America with Lovecraftian-style monsters. Several actors and industry leaders signed a petition (sent before the ban was enacted) promising they would no longer recommend Georgia for new projects, including Mark Hamill, Tessa Thompson, Don Cheadle, Brie Larson, and Mark Ruffalo.
Questions have been raised as to why studios reacted so quickly and strongly against Georgia’s religious freedom bill, but are largely staying silent about this one. There are a couple of reasons. First is that the film industry is more deeply entrenched in the state now, and a studio boycott risks thousands of jobs. Stacey Abrams, who was narrowly defeated by Kemp in the run for governor, told the Los Angeles Times she and many others don’t want a financial boycott, as it would disproportionately affect Georgian workers. Instead, she and others are asking studios to support local initiatives to challenge the law.
There’s also the issue of abortion rights as a whole, which remains a touchy subject in the United States. According to the New York Times, studios were more willing to throw their support toward the broadly supported movement of gay rights after the religious freedom bill passed, but “some studio executives have noted in private conversations that the country is far from united on the issue of abortion.” In other words, it’s easier to be an activist when it seems easy and good for business.
For now, the ACLU and other groups have promised to fight the law. This could stop it from being enacted, but could also lead to the issue being brought to the United States Supreme Court. SCOTUS opted out of addressing Indiana’s overturned abortion ban earlier today, but there are plenty of other states in line. In the meantime, Kemp is still trying to court studios to keep their business in the state. He recently cancelled a trip out to Hollywood, instead hosting a closed-door meeting of film industry leaders. And California is trying to step in, with Democratic Assemblywoman Luz Rivas introducing a measure that would offer tax credits to productions that choose to leave states because of strict anti-abortion laws.
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