The Film Industry vs Georgia’s “Heartbeat Bill”

Unless you’ve been under a rock so large it must be Stone Mountain, you’ve no doubt heard about the “heartbeat bill” making the rounds in Georgia and several other states.

The heartbeat bill is the in-vogue yet highly controversial piece of legislation that makes abortions illegal as soon as a fetal “heartbeat” can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks — which is often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. The bill is supposed to become law January 2020 in Georgia. This is already affecting Hollywood’s business with the South.

Georgia’s Film Industry

The film industry in Georgia has grown exponentially over the past few years, thanks to an incentive program passed in 2008 that offers a 30 percent tax break to qualifying productions. In 2018, there were 455 projects produced in Georgia, amounting to $9.5 billion in revenue for the state. That business provided over 90,000 jobs.

The Los Angeles film office, FilmLA reported that 17 of the year’s 100 top-performing U.S. features were filmed in Georgia, actually beating California.

Since 2013, a number of businesses have opened to support and take advantage of the growth of the film industry. This includes not just studios, but also the tourism industry.

The Walking Dead alone revitalized the town of Senoia. The town began with six buildings and empty storefronts. The popularity and success of the show is evident in the new town — 50 fully occupied buildings, some businesses zombie-themed. Business is good.

Don’t watch those shows? Maybe you’ve seen Avengers: Endgame, Stranger Things, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle? Numerous films large and small have made the state their home, shipping in crew who spend money locally while providing thousands of jobs to Georgia talent and crew.

Hollywood Boycott

boycott

Then Governor Kemp signed the “heartbeat bill” on May 7th. Not are women’s bodily autonomy and health threatened — but there are celebrities and producers in Hollywood vowing not to shoot their next projects in Georgia.

Although I admire their tenacity, I am one of many saying “Don’t do that.” Women work here, and we’re fighting against this bill. Taking away our business, our way of supporting ourselves, will only hurt us. And if we leave the state to pursue work elsewhere, the state will likely turn more “red,” leading to less possibility of such a draconian bill being overturned.

Since Gov. Kemp signed the bill, the number of Hollywood producers and actors declaring a boycott on the state has grown:

  • Christine Vachon, CEO tweeted that Killer Films “will no longer consider Georgia as a viable shooting location until this ridiculous law is overturned.”
  • TV producer David Simon (“The Wire”) stated on social media he was boycotting Georgia: “Our comparative assessments of locations for upcoming development will pull Georgia off the list until we can be assured the health options and civil liberties of our female colleagues are unimpaired.”
  • Kristen Wiig is pulling her comedy “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.”
  • Alyssa Milano stated that if Insatiable is renewed and continues to shoot in Georgia, she won’t return to the show.
  • Amazon show The Power had been scouting locations in Savannah for months before they pulled production from the state. Director Reed Morano, (The Handmaid’s Tale – thematic parallel is not lost) stated, “We had no problem stopping the entire process instantly. There is no way we would ever bring our money to that state by shooting there.”
  • Jessica Chastain, Mark Duplass, John Leguizamo, Jason Bateman, Kerry Washington, Alec Baldwin, Don Cheadle, etc…. also stated they wouldn’t film in Georgia due to the abortion law.

Governor Kemp has not done anything to alleviate concerns, blasting so-called “C-List celebrities” who stated they would not work in the state. Notably, the Governor also had to cancel a trip to LA for “Georgia Night.” 

Stacey Abrams has called for Hollywood to stand and fight with the people of Georgia. “Less than 25% across the country believe that we should overturn Roe v. Wade, and yet in Kentucky and Ohio and Indiana and Missouri and Mississippi and Georgia and Alabama we see these bans moving forward,” she said, “and it is not a reflection of the will of the people.”

Another wrench in the works is California’s opportunism to win productions back to their state. Democratic Assemblywoman Luz Rivas introduced Assembly Bill 1442 on Monday. The bill would offer tax breaks to productions that move from states with strict abortion bans. The legislation needs to clear multiple committees before getting voted on at the Assembly, a process that could take over a month.

Positive News

Things don’t look so good after seeing all that, but several production companies have stated they’ll keep their productions in Georgia – at least for now.

J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele made the news first, stating they’d donate their TV salaries for Lovecraft Country to the ACLU and Fair Fight Georgia, in order to fight the bill. Soon others followed suit, including Peter Chernin of Chernin Entertainment who is producing the Fear Street films.

Ron Howard and Brian Grazer will continue to shoot their Netflix film Hillbilly Elegy next month, though they state that if the law goes into effect in January 2020, they will “boycott the state as a production center.”

District attorneys are already refusing to enforce the abortion law. This is a step in the right direction.

Other states are making their priority on choice. Abortion is now a constitutional right in Kansas, a decision that’s four years in the making. Vermont’s bill H. 57 makes a similar declaration. It’s headed to the governor’s desk soon.

What Can We Do?

we are the womenImage from petition on Change.org.

First, add your name to the petition “We Are the Women of the Film & Media Industry in Georgia.” The petition asks Hollywood to fight together with local crew and talent in Georgia. “Your condemnation is understandable,” the petition states, “but what we really need most is allies.”

A crowdfunding effort benefitting the Georgia ACLU is another option.

MAY 25th: There’s a protest by DoBetterGA on May 25th. People will march from the Capitol to the CNN building in Atlanta. You can find the Facebook event link here.

JUNE 1st: There’s a protest against the Heartbeat bill. You can respond to the Facebook event here.

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