As incendiary anti-abortion legislation continues to roll out in states across the nation, Hollywood is under increased scrutiny to weigh in on a social issue that could affect thousands of jobs and steep financial investment. As many powerful content makers continue to wait and see how political fallout breaks, a handful of bold-named entities have committed to stay and fight the legislation.
The gesture has won over local film industry workers in Georgia, particularly women, numerous executives and knowledgeable insiders told Variety. Pledges from J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele (shooting HBO’s “Lovecraft Country”) and Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping (the film trilogy “Fear Street” and series “P-Valley”) to donate money to local groups fighting the state’s “heartbeat bill” have inspired crews to follow suit.
“The response on the ground has been incredibly gratifying,” Chernin, CEO of the Chernin Group, said. “On the ‘Fear Street’ set, a number of women staff have given incredible feedback. Departments like the camera people on ‘P-Valley’ are starting a crowdfunding campaign to give to the ACLU as we have.”
Abrams and Peele are donating their production fees to two local groups — the Georgia chapter of the ACLU and Fair Fight Georgia — after lengthy conversations with women in their employ and in various employment sectors in Georgia’s now-widespread production community (the state’s attractive 30% tax rebate has created a veritable Southern offshoot of Hollywood in recent years).
The decision to remain in Georgia and allocate funds to fighting the bill, HB 481, came as prominent Hollywood figures called for an all-out boycott of the state — and the calls keep coming. On Thursday, “Ozark” star and executive producer Jason Bateman released a statement saying if the bill becomes law on Jan. 1 he will “not work in Georgia, or any other state, that is so disgracefully at odds with women’s rights.”
But others are following the example of Abrams, Peele and Chernin. Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment will proceed with a film adaptation of the bestselling novel “Hillbilly Elegy” on location in Georgia, but will also make a sizable donation to the ACLU. Stakes are high considering the human cost of an estimated 92,000 jobs at stake in the region, and what Chernin said was a higher moral calling to support a larger community that has embraced artists and craftspeople who have set up shop in their home state. Another top producer in the region, speaking on the condition of anonymity, pointed out that industry jobs provide thousands of women health care in the first place.
“We shouldn’t be taking those tax breaks and then abandoning the people who live there,” Chernin said. “I believe Hollywood has an obligation to get involved, and [the industry] has clearly benefited from places like Georgia. Let’s take some of those benefits and give it back to the fight.”
Those same sentiments are echoed by Stacey Abrams, the former gubernatorial candidate who became a phenomenon in her race against Brian Kemp, the current Georgia governor, last year. Fully supported by the likes of Abrams and Peele, the politician gave an impassioned interview to the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, warning of grave consequences should film and TV projects take their toys and head home to Southern California.
“We have to recognize that Georgia is the only state that is such a deep part of the film industry that also has the type of draconian leadership that would seek to strip a woman’s autonomy in this way,” said Stacey Abrams. “That puts us in a unique position to fight back — not only against the legislation here but the legislation around the country — and to fund the defeat of these politicians and their horrible behavior by using the resources available through the entertainment industry.”
While these producers move the conversation to a point of action, they only represent three projects. The Georgia Film Office lists 38 active productions in the state at press time, including projects from Netflix, Warner Bros. Entertainment, NBCUniversal’s Focus Features and the Bravo network, and many more. Those companies have yet to weigh in, and representatives for those shops and more did not respond to Variety‘s request for comment.
Adding fuel the fire is similar — if not more severe — sister legislation in states like Alabama and Missouri. Chernin bluntly cautioned: “This is clearly not a one-state issue.”
At the Bloomberg Equality Summit in London on Thursday, women’s rights champion and Oscar winner Patricia Arquette spoke out on glut of hopeful laws. The actress said “anti-abortion laws including people who were [sic] incested and raped. There’s no protection in certain states. They want to get this to the Supreme Court. They want to overturn Roe vs. Wade. They don’t want the equal rights amendment to pass because they’re afraid that we’d give women more grounds to have rights to abortion because they would be full people.”