Celebrities Are Boycotting Georgia — But Will That Help?
The film industry employs 92,000 people in the state. Here's what some of them have to say about Hollywood's reaction to the "Heartbeat Bill."
In what seemed to be the signature heard around the world, on May 7, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, or HB 481— a bill that would ban most abortions after six weeks. Formerly referred to as the “Heartbeat Bill,” the law has even been considered extreme by conservative Republican standards — and the outrage toward it has been swift.
Members of the film and television industry — spearheaded by actress and vocal activist Alyssa Milano whose show Insatiable films in Georgia — are calling for a boycott of the state. To help put that in perspective, Georgia is now the top filming location in the country due to tax credits offered to production studios who create work there. In the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years that looked like an economic impact of $9.5 billion and $2.7 billion of direct spending in the state, and employment for an estimated 92,000 Georgians, according to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, as reported by AJC.
Since #BoycottGeorgia (and #WeWontGoBack) began trending shortly after the law's ink had dried, five production companies have announced they will no longer work in the state if HB 481 is upheld. On top of that, more than than 100 actors have pledged to boycott Georgia-based productions, via a letter to the Governor, including Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman, Gabrielle Union, Brie Larson, Natalie Portman, Naomi Watts, Jessica Chastain, Laura Dern and Mark Ruffalo — names that certainly hold some sway.
Ed Helms, who is an Atlanta native, has filmed several productions in Georgia and spoke out on Instagram stating that he and his production company would not do business in his home state as long as the bill is in place. "I have worked on three movies in Georgia with some of the best resources and crews imaginable. I love working there," he writes. "I've been incredibly proud of Georgia's growth in film production. But that production is entirely the result of generous tax incentives from the state government. The same state government that is now brutally undermining women's health, safety, and autonomy. Which is why, until the bill is gone, my production company will not be doing business in Georgia."
He goes on to quote a Slate article titled "Georgia Just Criminalized Abortion. Women Who Terminate Their Pregnancies Would Receive Life in Prison," to provide his followers with "a better understanding of how frightening this law is."
This weighty display by industry heavy-hitters could very well bring change, as this isn’t the first face-off between Georgia’s conservative leaders and the filming industry: In 2016, when a so-called “religious rights” bill threatened to allow discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community, threats of a filming boycott were seen as part of the reason then-Governor Nathan Deal vetoed the measure.
However, people who both live and work in the state are surprised at the tone-deaf nature of these war cries for justice — and for many, calls for a boycott feel like hashtag activism that will hurt the very people they are supposedly trying to help.
Beth Talbert, Vice President of Studio Operations at Eagle Rock Studios Atlanta (where shows such as Ozark, The Passage, Dynasty, Greenleaf, and Kevin (Probably) Saves the World have filmed) says, “If any production studio feels it is in its best interest to leverage funds for the benefit of human rights, then that is certainly their prerogative to do so, but the infrastructure we’ve built here to support the film and television production industry is an important part of the Georgia economy, and it is our hope that Hollywood decision-makers will continue to support the tens of thousands of Georgia workers who support their families through jobs in the industry.”
Natalie Fernandez, who has worked in various fields in the industry and is currently a payroll accountant echoes these sentiments and makes another important point. “A boycott is actually punishing the citizens of this state who were so close to turning the state blue during the last elections. Yes, we can do big things together, but how can we help bring change to the state if we turn our backs on the people here?”
A Change.org petition started by the Women of Film in Georgia is currently 2,700 signatures strong and expresses discouragement and heartbreak about the law itself, while simultaneously feeling “the burden of condemnation for actions we fought from the beginning” and asks for allies while they work and fight from the inside.
One time gubernatorial candidate and passionate advocate for women’s rights and the state of Georgia Stacey Abrams has also come forward saying that rather than boycotting the state, Hollywood should stay and help join the fight.
Actress Sunny Mabrey, known for her roles on shows and movies, including Once Upon a Time and The Librarians, recently purchased a home in Georgia and moved to the state full time along with her husband, actor Ethan Embry, due in large part to the amount of work there — something that could be in jeopardy with this boycott. “I know the intentions of the boycott are good, but I stand with Stacey Abrams on this, and I think it would damage the state more than anything else,” she tells InStyle. “I don’t think something as serious as abortion and human rights should be intertwined with the entertainment industry, and whether it flourishes in a state or not, and when you take away the economic growth, and all the life and positivity that the filming industry has brought to the state, you’re taking away the progress that you’re fighting for.”
Famed directors J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele have come up with another way to approach the issue: The pair’s HBO series Lovecraft Country will begin shooting in Georgia in the coming weeks, and they made a joint statement explaining that they will each donate 100 percent of their respective paychecks to the ACLU of Georgia and Fair Fight Georgia, and encourage others in the industry to donate similarly.
Suzan Satterfield a writer, producer and founding member of the Atlanta Producer’s Guild of America and chairperson for the PGA’s Women’s Impact Network, as well as the founder of the Women in Production Summit is a full time Georgia resident and applauds Abrams and Peele’s action. “I think as effective as boycotts can be in some situations, this particular boycott won’t hurt the legislators, it hurts the workers of Georgia. And these are hard-working, middle class people who pay taxes and own property and have families.” She cites the “divisiveness” of America, and says that “when it comes to our livelihoods, we should be standing together.” Satterfield also says she believes Georgia has an opportunity to be seen as a leader, not only in the production industry, but in women’s rights and value within that industry.
“As a producer, I’m very solution-oriented, and I am a part of a group of women whose focus is how to help women move up in this industry, and our official goal is to make Georgia the most women-friendly media market in the country.”
But despite the strong push against a state boycott, there’s no unanimous choice here, even among people the decision would affect. Meredith Markworth-Pollack is the costume designer for Georgia-filmed Dynasty, and moved to the state with her family in 2017.
She says, “I believe filming studios should take a stance against the Heartbeat Bill and withdraw their production from Georgia. I say this with a heavy heart, because I realize the impact it would have on the people of Georgia who have built their lives and careers around the massive industry that has blossomed here, but I feel it is our responsibility to show the world that we will not stand quietly as our basic rights as women are violated. So to me, the loss of power over our own bodies outweighs the loss of work here.”