Can Hollywood Stop Anti-Gay Georgia Law?
Mickey Mouse might be on the next midnight train out of Georgia. And, if the governor signs a so-called religious liberty bill, Captain America and Ant Man may be riding in the conductor’s car.
The Walt Disney Co. is threatening a statewide boycott after lawmakers passed legislation with provisions some are calling discriminatory and anti-gay. The explicit economic threat comes as Gov. Nathan Deal considers signing a measure that would allow religious leaders to refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, and says they cannot be compelled to open their facilities to groups with “objectionable” views. The Free Exercise Protection Act, similar to a measure vetoed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence in 2015, would also give faith-based groups the right to deny services and employment to people based on religious beliefs or practices.
Opponents say the measure amounts to legalized discrimination.
Disney released a statement saying the entertainment juggernaut would cease all film production in the state if HB 757 is signed into law. The boycott includes its subsidiary movie studio, Marvel.
“Disney and Marvel are inclusive companies, and although we have had great experiences filming in Georgia, we will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law,” the company said Wednesday.
At least 20 Fortune 500 companies, including Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, The Home Depot, UPS, and Coca-Cola, have lined up to urge the governor to veto the bill. The coalition includes Google, IBM, Marriott, Microsoft, AMC, Viacom, Nordstrom, Dow Chemical, and Verizon. Time Warner, which owns Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting and CNN, also joined the effort.
“At Time Warner, diversity in all its forms is core to our value system and to the success of our business,” Time Warner Inc. said in a statement released early Thursday. “We strongly oppose the discriminatory language and intent of Georgia’s pending religious liberty bill, which clearly violates the values and principles of inclusion and the ability of all people to live and work free from discrimination.
The announcements come at a time when the state is experiencing extraordinary growth in its film and television industry and just one day after a similar law was enacted in North Carolina. A state commission in Georgia, as well as several local governments, have created financial incentives to attract productions. AMC’s The Walking Dead and BET’s Being Mary Jane are among television projects filmed in the state. However, major box office productions like Captain America: Civil War, set for release in May, and Ant-Man were also filmed in suburban Atlanta.
As of 2014, Georgia ranked third—behind New York and California—among states chosen for primary production locations for feature films. In 2015, spending topped $1.5 billion.
Chad Griffin, head of the Human Rights Campaign, urged Hollywood to join the economic boycott.
“Join us as we urge TV and film studios, directors and producers, to commit to locating no further productions in the state of Georgia if this bill becomes law,” Griffin said in a speech, just days before the Disney announcement.
The governor is expected to make a decision in April. His signature would almost guarantee a rainy night in Georgia, as some of the state’s biggest economic players pull up stakes.