Why Hollywood is staying quiet about Georgia’s new voting law

Tyler Perry accepts the People’s Champion Award on stage for the 2020 E! The People’s Choice Awards will be presented at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California and will air on Sunday, November 15, 2020.

Christopher Polk | E! Entertainment | NBCUniversal | Getty Images

While other corporate giants like Coca-Cola and Delta were quick to speak out against Georgia’s new electoral law, the state’s film studios were less vocal.

In the past, Hollywood has used the threat of production boycotts in the state to voice its opinion on Georgian politics. This time around, however, the studios were mostly mother of the matter, which led many to wonder why.

Some speculate that the industry is hoping the federal government will step in while executives voice their concerns behind the scenes or pull other levers like the use of political donations. Another factor could be timing: in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, studios simply cannot create threats that could disrupt production.

“As a Georgia resident and business owner, I have been here a few times with the Abortion Act and the LGBTQ Discrimination Act,” Tyler Perry, who owns Tyler Perry Studios, Georgia, said in a statement Tuesday. “They all sent a shock wave through Georgia and the nation, but none of them managed to succeed. I rest my hopes on that [Department of Justice] take a close look at this unconstitutional electoral suppression law reminiscent of the Jim Crow era. “

The new law, signed by Governor Brian Kemp on March 26th, includes a restriction on dropboxing, making it a crime to provide food or water to voters who line up outside of polling stations and require mandatory proof of identity for voters the postal vote and creates stronger legislative control over how elections are conducted. Opponents say that these provisions disproportionately disenfranchise people with color.

On Wednesday, ViacomCBS became the first major entertainment company to publicly condemn the law.

“We unequivocally believe in the importance of all Americans having the same right to vote and we oppose the recent Georgian suffrage law or any effort that hinders the exercise of this vital constitutional right,” the company wrote on Twitter.

AT&T, which owns Warner Media, also issued a statement on the law.

“AT&T believes that our voting rights are among the most sacrosanct we enjoy and that free enterprise and businesses like ours thrive where elections are open and safe,” the company said in a statement. “Consistent with this belief, we partner with other companies that are members of the Georgia Chamber and the Metro-Atlanta Chamber of Commerce as these organizations support policies that promote accessible and secure voting while ensuring the integrity and transparency of elections . “

None of the companies threatened to boycott the state.

The Hollywood effect

Some have speculated that Hollywood’s silence reflected the challenges facing the industry. It can’t afford to boycott the state’s filming locations after months of production been lost to the coronavirus pandemic. Others believe Hollywood executives may just be waiting for more information before making any statements.

After all, it took a few weeks for the 2019 Anti-Abortion Act, known as the Heartbeat Law, to be signed before most actors, producers and directors began threatening boycotts in the state. A federal judge struck down the law last year.

“I think the entertainment industry is putting this on hold until the federal government brings in the vote [law] to the ground, “said Tom Nunan, a lecturer at UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and founder of Bull’s Eye Entertainment.

“It’s a bleak mess, and I suspect executives, especially Disney, who has the largest footprint in Georgia because of the Marvel franchise of movies and series, are waiting for the federal response,” he said.

Disney did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. Sony officials were also not immediately available.

Hollywood has a lot of weight to throw at. The state will receive nearly $ 3 billion in direct spending on film and television production and another $ 6.5 billion in additional economic impact. This money goes to hotels, restaurants, gas stations, rental cars and wood purchases, everything companies need to realize and produce their projects.

Since 2008, enticing tax incentives have turned the state into Y’allywood, a film and television production center. Georgia has developed an infrastructure for big budget productions and is home to a hugely skilled workforce of crew members, artisans, and technicians.

Ryan Millsap, CEO of Blackhall Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, told CNBC that production in the state is “booming” even with the addition of Covid protocols. He said there is more productions in Georgia than ever before and that studios must actually turn down companies looking for studio space.

Alternatives to boycotts

While the threat of boycotts can be an effective bargaining chip, ceasing production would also hurt the local crews and other businesses that rely on that income.

“The boycott threat was pretty minor at the time,” said Molly Coffee, creative director of Film Impact Georgia and a veteran of the state’s film industry. “James Mangold made a statement on Twitter that he would not film in Georgia, and that was repeated by the likes of Mark Hamill and Debra Messing. The fear is always that others will follow suit.”

Mark Hamill, left, and James Mangold

Michael Tullberg | Getty Images; Kevin Winter | Getty Images

Russell Williams, a professor of film and media arts at American University, suggested that there are other ways Hollywood could be heard.

“Hollywood is bearing the added cost of protecting its workforce and customers (if applicable) with fewer opportunities to recoup that investment due to the pandemic. So maybe there are more targeted ways to get it.” [legislators’] Attention, “he said.” No donation, anyone? “

Hollywood’s elite opened their wallets to fund the Georgia Senate runoff earlier this year. Federal Election Commission records show that celebrities like Mark Ruffalo, Jack Black, Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon and Tracee Ellis Ross distributed money ahead of the January election.

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