Hollywood Pours Billions Into Anti-Abortion States It Condemns
MWhile movie stars and edia companies have opposed Roe v. Wade’s overturning, Hollywood continues to invest in film and television productions that are aimed at restricting or outlawing abortion.
Officials from Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma and other states that generate billions of dollars a year from the film-and-television business, said they haven’t seen a slowdown in the sector since the ruling was overturned. The companies that own the biggest studios said they will cover abortion-related travel as part of employee health benefits, but haven’t said they’ll alter investment plans.
This is a stark reminder of the harsh economic realities facing filmmakers and celebrities. Many have attended protests or written editorials calling for protections to abortion rights. The economic fate of these celebrities and filmmakers is tied to states that are successful at both in luring large film-and television productions with generous tax incentives and restricting access.
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“We have to wait and see, at some level, if this is a tipping point,” said Paul Swanson, an attorney who chairs the entertainment finance practice at Loeb & Loeb. “Once you start production somewhere, and you have your crew, and you have your locations, it’s a complete nightmare and it’s going to cost you a lot of money to pick up and leave.”
Hollywood’s response to the overturning of Roe is similar to what happened in 2019, when Georgia passed a law criminalizing abortions after fetal heart cells first form a detectable electric signal. Walt Disney Co., Netflix Inc., as well as a few actors of note, threatened to quit their jobs there. For the most part, they didn’t.
Georgia provides a 20% tax incentive to qualified film production companies that spend at least $500,000 within the state. The credit can reduce the movie’s cost by millions. It has also spent decades supporting the building of studio spaces and the development of the workforce needed by filmmakers. According to FilmLA research, Georgia hosts more feature films than any other state. According to the Motion Picture Association, Georgia’s entertainment industry is worth approximately $3.8 billion annually in wages.
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Disney, Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures, Netflix and Amazon.com Inc. are among the companies shooting movies and TV shows in the state. Productions being shot there include the Disney film “Dashing Through the Snow” and Netflix’s reality series “Hack My Home,” according to the Georgia film office. The four businesses all cover employees for abortion-related travel. None of the companies said they’ll alter filming plans.
Mixed views exist on whether or not to do business in countries with strict abortion bans. Stacey Abrams, the Georgia gubernatorial candidate who is a prominent advocate of abortion access, has said pulling investment from the state mostly hurts entertainment workers who can’t control laws. Some stars have publicly said they won’t work in states where the laws don’t align with their values because it sends a message.
It is easier for productions to move quickly before cameras begin rolling. This suggests that projects in the early stages of development are most vulnerable. “Eric Larue,” a film based on a play about a school shooting was due to start filming in Arkansas in early July. The state film office received an email from director Michael Shannon’s publicist on July 5 with a press release attached.
Citing a state law banning nearly all abortions in Arkansas, including cases of rape and incest, the release said, “The filmmakers have withdrawn production from the state and will now be shooting in and around Wilmington, North Carolina,” which is less restrictive.
Officials at the Arkansas film office said they hadn’t heard of any other films being pulled in response to the abortion rules. Guy Gaster, director of the North Carolina Film Office, said his department hasn’t seen a surge in moviemakers applying to work in the state and had only heard about the “Eric Larue” move from press reports.
“It’s been business as usual for us,” Gaster said by email.
Unintended consequences have been a problem for companies that impact on politics. After Disney had criticized Florida’s law banning discussion of homosexual orientation in elementary schools, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis dissolved a special municipal region that the company has operated since 1960. Disney hasn’t commented publicly on the situation since.
Bloomberg News reached out directly to talent agencies, movie studios and media representatives to get their views on filming in restricted areas. None would discuss what they’re planning or what they think will happen. Some state entertainment offices said filmmakers seeking to submit applications have been bringing up abortion rules, but all said that with the exception of “Eric Larue,” there was no other clear impact.
A minimum of four roundtable discussions were hosted by Hollywood’s top producers and actresses. They discussed how to respond to the new regulations regarding abortion. They mostly discussed donating to Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and encouraging voter participation. Additionally, they’ve urged celebrities to draw attention to the issue and engage in attention-grabbing acts, like virtual walkouts.
Swanson, the entertainment lawyer said that the anti-abortion state’s entertainment industry may have a longer-term effect. The strong tax incentive programs offered by other countries such as Australia, Canada, the UK and Canada could also attract potential new projects. Stars and workers can only make this happen.
“These companies, they’ll say what they want to say and a month later we move on to some other thing in the news, the war in Ukraine, or something else, and people move on and that’s it,” he said. “They save the money and they don’t have to change anything.”
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