LOS ANGELES: Hollywood producers have flocked to the southern US state of Georgia in recent years, lured by its low taxes and affordable lifestyle.
But the Peach State has offended many in the industry by passing abortion laws that are among the country’s strictest – and the backlash is growing.
A coterie of film stars led by actress-activist Alyssa Milano, including Alec Baldwin, Don Cheadle, Ben Stiller, Mia Farrow and Amy Schumer, had threatened in late March to refuse to work in Georgia if it adopted the new abortion restrictions.
But the state’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, signed the bill into law on Tuesday.
Several independent film and television production companies have since pledged to boycott the state unless the legislation – which bans abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected, generally in the sixth week of pregnancy – is rescinded.
“I can’t ask any female member of any film production with which I am involved to so marginalise themselves or compromise their inalienable authority over their own bodies,” said David Simon, the creator of several successful TV series including HBO’s “The Wire.”
“Killer Films will no longer consider Georgia as a viable shooting location until this ridiculous law is overturned,” the company’s CEO Christine Vachon wrote on Twitter.
Actor-producer Mark Duplass chimed in: “Don’t give your business to Georgia.”
‘Tooth and nail’
Milano, the onetime star of “Charmed” and “Who’s the Boss?” – whose profile has risen as the #MeToo movement has taken hold – said she would honour her March pledge.
“I will fight tooth and nail to move ‘Insatiable’ to a state that will protect our rights,” Milano told BuzzFeed News, referring to her current series on Netflix.
“I will do everything in my power to get as many productions as possible, including ‘Insatiable,’ to move out of this state.”
She said she was contractually required to complete another month of filming in Georgia, but added that she would leave the show if production were not shifted elsewhere for subsequent seasons.
Milano took to social media on Friday to call on women to join her in a sex boycott until the law was repealed.
“Until women have legal control over our own bodies we just cannot risk pregnancy,” she wrote on Twitter.
“JOIN ME by not having sex until we get bodily autonomy back.”
Georgia offers filmmakers and production companies a number of enticements: a far lower cost of living than in Los Angeles, a variety of landscapes and, since 2008, tax credits of up to 30%.
Blockbuster movies like Marvel’s “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” were filmed in the state; television series including “Stranger Things,” “Ozark” and “The Walking Dead” have also been shot there.
Last year, more than 450 productions were set in Georgia, where they spent the non-negligible sum of US$2.7 billion.
But the new law could be a tipping point.
“I understand the tax breaks are terrific, the geography diverse, the cost of living cheap … but by criminalising abortion after six weeks, Georgia Gov Brian Kemp just turned the millions you save, and the billions you infuse into the state economy, into blood money,” Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara wrote in a column.
“Blood from all the women and girls who will now have to resort to knitting needles and kitchen table ‘doctors’ to terminate their pregnancies,” she went on.
Caution from major studios
The Writers Guild of America, representing screenwriters, said the law would make Georgia “an inhospitable place for people who work in the film and television industry.”
But the major studios – with huge financial stakes at issue – have remained largely quiet.
Chris Ortman, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America – which represents some of Hollywood’s biggest heavyweights: Paramount, Sony, Universal, Disney, Warner Bros and Netflix – said the group would continue to “monitor developments.”
“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,” Ortman said.
“The outcome in Georgia will also be determined through the legal process.”
The film industry, he added, supports 92,000 jobs in Georgia.
McNamara doesn’t buy that wait-and-see approach.
“Hollywood needs to leave now,” she wrote.