In the space of not quite six months, two native Georgians have forever altered the future of legalized abortion in the U.S., but not for the reasons which typically divide the pro-choice and pro-life factions. Far more than Constitutional rights, this particular battle is over commerce and the possible loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, along with untold millions of Georgia revenue dollars.
On May 7, Governor Brian Kemp (R) signed Georgia House Bill 481 [HB 481], also known as “The Heartbeat Bill” or “Living Infants Fairness Equality (LIFE) Act,” a bill that would prohibit abortion in the state for women who are more than six weeks pregnant or when a fetus has a detectible heartbeat. On October 1, Judge Steve C. Jones (D) — appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2011 — ruled the bill to be unconstitutional and passed an injunction to temporarily block it from becoming law on January 1, 2020, thus freezing the bill and putting it in a state of limbo. This injunction stemmed from multiple suits filed in June by the ACLU, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Planned Parenthood.
In the past decade similar Heartbeat bills have been passed, then overturned, in Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, and Ohio, including another in Alabama which was even more restrictive: no abortions, period, not even for rape or incest. With the possible exception of Louisiana, none of these other states have any significant film or TV production presence. Georgia is the top U.S. location for film and TV and is second globally only to the entire country of Canada.
Before Kemp even signed the bill, many left-leaning, B-grade members of the acting community voiced great displeasure with the possible passing of the bill and, with full-time professional agitator Alyssa Milano leading the charge, dozens swore they’d never work in Georgia again if the bill became law. To date, 50 performers have signed on to the cause, with only three (Judd Apatow, Sean Penn, and Ben Stiller) being anywhere near A-list status. Considering only Apatow has had a serious hit in the last decade (“Trainwreck”), this list is severely lacking in box office drawing power or consistent rainmakers.
Beyond Milano and her fellow bellyachers, few others either in front of or behind the camera have actually sighted HB 481 as a reason to not work in Georgia.
In a torrid bit of irony, Milano continues to participate in the Georgia production of the TV show “Insatiable” due to contractual obligations.
The only two projects that chose to pull up stakes and relocate were a new Amazon TV series (“The Power”) and the Netflix movie “Barb & Star Go To Vista del Mar,” starring Kristen Wiig, which was shot mostly in Mexico. It’s worth noting these productions had yet to start filming and were only in the pre-production stage.
Producer/leading man Jason Bateman has stated he will not continue producing his show “Ozark” if the law ever goes into effect.
“If the ‘heartbeat bill’ makes it through the court system, I will not work in Georgia, or any other state, that is so disgracefully at odds with women’s rights,” Bateman told The Hollywood Reporter.
Ironically, Bateman and two of his “Arrested Development” co-stars gave fellow cast member Jeffrey Tambor a pass when he was charged with sexual harassment on the set of “Transparent.” Bateman has since half-heartedly back walked his support of Tambor only after pressure from his TV mom, played by Jessica Walter.
The executives behind other studio productions have stated they will be “staying put and digging in” rather than leaving. This amounts to them donating money to the ACLU in an effort to assuage their perceived guilt. The most notable of these is the Netflix-produced Ron Howard-directed film “Hillbilly Elegy” which began production in June after the bill was signed and was shot mostly in Atlanta, Macon, and Clayton. To date, none of the major Hollywood studios (Disney, Paramount, Universal, or Warner Bros.) have made any public declarations of abandoning current or future productions earmarked for Georgia, something likely made easier by Judge Jones’ injunction.
Productions still shooting in Georgia include the TV series’ “Stranger Things” and “The Walking Dead,” the Disney-distributed Marvel movies, the “Fast & the Furious” franchise and a proposed TV series based on “The Hunger Games.” All three “Hunger Games” features were shot in Georgia.
Given the razor-thin margin of his victory over Democrat gubernatorial rival Stacey Abrams in 2018 and the slow shifting of Georgia from red to purple, the chances of Kemp getting re-elected in 2022 looked bleak in May, but given the strong possibility the HB 481 bill might not ever become law and the entertainment production dollars keeping flowing like lava into the state, a second term for Kemp is entirely possible. He can tell his supporters that he kept his campaign promise by signing the bill, which leads to much speculation on the timeline of the bill itself.
Was there behind-the-scenes, political horse-trading taking place beneath Atlanta’s gold Capital dome between political and entertainment big wigs this whole time?
Squashing an industry which delivered the state $2.9 billion in 2018 alone for what many believe to be a symbolic gesture to reverse a nearly 45-year-old law doesn’t make much sense.
If the bill stays frozen, both sides can rightfully claim victory and Georgia will remain the top dog in U.S. film and TV production.
It kind of sounds like a good story pitch for a movie: nobody really wins and no one really loses and the beat goes on uninterrupted.
Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets and is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and he recently co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle. Over the last two decades, Mr. Clark has written over 3,500 movie reviews and film related articles for the Gwinnett Daily Post and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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