Georgia has housed many of film and television’s iconic on-screen battles.
It’s where the Avengers fought Thanos, Rick Grimes faced off against the walking dead and Eleven and friends defeated the Demogorgon. But in the upcoming months, Georgia will become the battleground for a very different fight.
Numerous states have ramped up their attack on reproductive rights by imposing a litany of restrictions on abortion. Many of these restrictions have taken the form of legislation misleadingly titled “heartbeat” bills, which state that abortions cannot be performed after fetal cardiac activity can be detected. In May, Georgia became one of many states to pass such legislation.
The term “fetal heartbeat” is meant to evoke a strong emotional reaction, but the “heartbeat” referred to does not actually come from a beating heart, according to gynecologist Dr. Jennifer Gunter in a Planned Parenthood article. Instead, it refers to a two-to-four-millimeter thickening on the margin of the yolk sac, known as the fetal pole. Its electrically induced flickering, as described by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, which is often before many people realize they are pregnant.
Georgia is not the only state to pass this misleadingly titled bill – several other states have passed legislation with similar language. However, Georgia is distinctly situated because of the film industry’s prevalence within the state, which has led to calls for film companies to boycott the state and move productions elsewhere. While it is absolutely imperative to push back against draconian measures such as Georgia’s law, it is also important to acknowledge the human cost of doing so, even as many in Hollywood take principled stands.
Over the past 15 years, Georgia has become a major filming spot because of the tax incentives that it offers productions, said UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television lecturer Tom Nunan. Additionally, Nunan said a large creative community has developed there, comprised of seasoned crew members who work on the various productions within Georgia. Many of Hollywood’s biggest productions were filmed in Georgia, from “Avengers: Endgame” to “Stranger Things.”
Last week, Disney’s CEO Bob Iger said it would be “difficult” for Disney to continue production in the state if the law survives court challenges, joining Netflix, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal in speaking out against the law. Several productions, including Kristen Wiig’s new comedy and Amazon’s upcoming series “The Power,” have since pulled their previously planned filming from the state. Some prominent filmmakers, like Judd Apatow and Nina Jacobson, have also vowed to boycott Georgia for future productions.
Others have taken a decidedly different approach – Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams began filming “Lovecraft Country” in Georgia shortly after the law was signed, but both have promised to donate their respective fees to organizations fighting the law.
The varying responses raise the question of what form of activism is most effective and most beneficial. If Hollywood were to boycott Georgia en masse, it could cost the state millions of dollars and apply pressure to the state legislature by both depriving the government of a stream of revenue and spurring people harmed by the boycott to act, Nunan said.
“(A boycott) is going to have the most immediate and most powerful impact on locals there, and anything else is a drastically less effective strategy,” Nunan said. “That’s the whole point of the boycott, is to send a very meaningful and painful message to the local economy saying if you adopt offensive bills and laws by the progressive Hollywood standard, you’ll pay for it.”
However, boycotts have a direct human cost – one that might be exacted on the wrong people. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, productions provide more than 92,000 jobs in the state, and losing those would be devastating to the local economy. Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams pushed back against the idea of a boycott as a be-all and end-all. She said legislators who passed the abortion ban did not care about the lives they were affecting by passing the law. Instead, she suggested productions use their economic influence to help fund activism within the state.
But the way in which both the law and the boycott are situated ensures that people will be hurt either way. Continuing to film in Georgia means that crew members will keep their jobs, but the state’s economy will continue to prosper despite the government’s actions. Alternatively, boycotting Georgia as a filming location will hurt additional people on top of those already impacted by Georgia’s law. It is crucial that companies consider both these factors in making their decision and act consciously to minimize the harm they inflict on individuals who are not responsible for the law.
But ultimately, pulling out of Georgia is the right move. Staying and allowing legislators to continue to reap the benefits of the film industry feels like a tacit endorsement of the policy. A boycott inflicts pain on crew members but passes that pain onto legislators, who will hopefully face electoral consequences in coming elections as part of a larger-scale protest that could provide long-term reproductive justice and freedom for generations to come.
Georgia’s law marks a monumental backslide, and it is imperative the film industry uses its economic might to make a statement. In the face of such obvious injustice, the film industry has a duty to plant themselves like a tree, look the state of Georgia in the eye, and as Sharon Carter said in “Captain America: Civil War” – a movie filmed in Georgia – “No, you move.”