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Georgia Democrats Are Cautioning Against a Hollywood Boycott. One Is Coming Anyway.

Netflix, Disney, CBS, NBC, Sony, and others have threatened to end production in Georgia after the state passed a bill outlawing abortion after six weeks.
A woman speaks during a protest against recently passed anti-abortion bills at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, on May 21st, 2019.

A woman speaks during a protest against recently passed abortion ban bills at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, on May 21st, 2019.

In the weeks since Georgia's Republican Governor Brian Kemp made good on one of his campaign promises and signed into law legislation making abortion illegal after six weeks and punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a slew of Hollywood actors, executives, and other studio bigwigs have all doubled down on their pledges to avoid film production in the state.

The legislation is already facing a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union that leaves the question of whether or not it will ever actually go into effect up in the air. But in Georgia, where lucrative tax incentives have helped to foster a robust television and film industry that employed some 92,000 workers and generated an estimated $9.5 billion in total economic impact in 2018 alone, even the threat of an imminent boycott could spell disaster for workers.

The storm clouds are gathering, and a Hollywood boycott of Georgia's TV and film industry seems likely to be imminent. As of May 31st, Disney, Netflix, AMC, CBS, Showtime, NBCUniversal, Sony, and WarnerMedia had all publicly expressed concerns over HB 481, which would grant a fetus full personhood if it were to go into effect in January of 2020 as scheduled. In a Wednesday interview with Reuters, Disney Chief Executive Office Bob Iger said of the law: "I think many people who work for us will not want to work there, and we will have to heed their wishes in that regard."

Actress Alyssa Milano and others have threatened to walk off of projects that are filming in Georgia outright.

"I have to be there for another month but you can be sure I will fight tooth and nail to move Insatiable to a state that will protect our rights," Milano recently told BuzzFeed News, speaking of the Netflix comedy she stars on. "And if it doesn't move to another state, I will not be able to return to the show if we are blessed with a third season."

The proposed boycott is an idea that Stacey Abrams—the longtime Democrat and activist who ran against Kemp in Georgia's gubernatorial election last year—is none too keen on. In a tweet, Abrams noted that she doesn't believe that Hollywood pulling up stakes and leaving the Peach State "is the most effective, strategic choice for change," and said that she did not believe it would ultimately deter Republicans from enacting their hard-lined anti-choice agenda.

"We live here, we buy homes here, we send our kids to school here," Abrams subsequently said. "We respect everyone's opinion, but what we think is the best thing for Georgia is for the film industry to stay and fight alongside every woman that lives here."

As talks of a boycott progress, many women in the state—who would be left to bear the consequences of the restrictive law if it were enacted—have been quick to express their discontent with the idea. In a petition that has garnered more that 3,000 signatures at the time of this writing, women in Georgia's film and media industry write that, while they have been dismayed to watch elected state officials act to undermine the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, "it is even more devastating to watch our state be painted with one wide brush."

"We now share the burden of condemnation for actions we fought from the beginning—with our time, energy, talents, and contributions," the petition reads. "In spite of being part of the resistance, we'll suffer the actions of our elected officials twice over."

And in a recent New York Times op-ed, documentary filmmaker Stephen Robert Morse reasoned with other industry insiders that a boycott of Georgia's filmmaking economy would inadvertently harm "the very diversity in the film business that it has gone to great lengths in recent years to support."

"There are many ways to combat a bad law, like donating filmmaking profits to the American Civil Liberties Union and Fair Fight Action. ... Boycotting hard-working, diverse people who are the future of the film industry is not one of them," Morse writes.

Kemp, for his part, has opted to dismiss the boycotts and those endorsing them, and has largely written off concerns that the protests will have any measurable impact on Georgia's economy.

"We are the party of freedom and opportunity," he told the assembled crowd at a state Republican convention this week. "We value and protect innocent life—even though that makes C-list celebrities squawk."

But experts are less certain the boycott would be ineffective. Brayden King, a professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, says that, while economic boycotts that rely on consumers making changes to their purchasing behavior tend not to fare well generally, boycotts involving institutional changes of company behavior "can have a really big impact, especially in industries like tourism and entertainment."

"The main way boycotts tend to affect their targets is by sullying their reputation, and I think that may be the longer term impact this boycott has on the states of Georgia and Alabama," King says. "As companies consider whether they want to set up shop in those states in the future, they may think twice wondering if their workers and employees would be comfortable living and working in a place like that."

As for Kemp's flippancy on the issue of a looming boycott—and Abrams' conviction that the governor is unlikely to be moved by the protest—King says that it's true that being at odds with so-called "Hollywood elites" could potentially play into Kemp's political strategy.

"Businesses recognize that their ability to steer the company in the right direction depends on their company having a good reputation; but for a politician, it's actually kind of the opposite," King says. "Having a bad reputation with liberal people in California can actually bolster their reputation among conservatives in Alabama or Georgia."

Although many Hollywood actors and studios have come out in support of the boycott in recent weeks, there have also been notable exceptions: Both Jordan Peele's Monkeypaw Productions and J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions have committed to continue filming in Georgia as planned while also donating money to initiatives and organizations on the ground that are committed to protecting a woman's right to an abortion.

But King says that an important facet of boycotts is the tension they create, even if it ends up leaving workers in the lurch: "That is the point of the boycott—to create pain, maybe even for people who don't deserve it."