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As studios debate how to handle COVID-19 vaccine resistance, the Biden administration is moving forward with its own mandates that are pushing Hollywood to toe the line. Though a federal court recently halted vaccine and testing requirements for private businesses with 100 or more employees pending review, the White House said Nov. 8 that the private sector “should not wait.”
While that case is expected to head to the Supreme Court, a flurry of actors and actresses has quietly pushed back on studio mandates, which increasingly require those in Zone A on a production — where cast and crew work in close proximity — be vaccinated. (Studio sources say some religious exemptions are being given, though they are rare.)
“We’re really only considering those who are vaccinated,” one prolific producer tells The Hollywood Reporter about COVID requirements for features they’re working on. Another producer, gearing up for a big studio production, concurs: “We will not engage with anyone who is not vaccinated.” But enforcement will be key as studios ensure that workers, from talent to crew, show proof.
“Nobody wants an Aaron Rodgers situation,” says the studio producer of the NFL star who flouted COVID-19 guidelines before testing positive for the virus. (Rodgers’ fiancee, Shailene Woodley, has not publicly disclosed her vaccination status. She is in production on Showtime’s Three Women. A Showtime rep says the series has a Zone A vaccine mandate, indicating Woodley is vaccinated.)
In turn, news has leaked of stars exiting projects they had been set to topline. Ice Cube, for one, departed Sony’s comedy Oh Hell No after declining a request from producers to get vaccinated, thus forgoing a $9 million payday. Veteran General Hospital star Ingo Rademacher was let go after not complying with a vaccine mandate.
Logistical challenges await for studios that are working with stars who haven’t gotten the shot. Disney’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever star Letitia Wright — who portrays the lead Shuri, the sister of Black Panther T’Challa (the late Chadwick Boseman) — is not vaccinated, sources say. After sustaining an on-set injury in August, the Guyanese-born British actress went home to London.
Now, a return to the U.S. for a possible shoot in Atlanta, where Wakanda Forever is based, could be an issue. On Nov. 8, the CDC implemented rules that require all non-immigrant, non-citizen air travelers to the U.S. be fully vaccinated and provide proof of vaccination status before boarding a plane. Wright is not a U.S. citizen. Disney declined to comment.
Wright’s U.K. rep pointed to a statement issued Nov. 5 to THR regarding the actress’ injury, prompting a shutdown of production that will begin the week of Thanksgiving (director Ryan Coogler is said to have filmed everything he can without her). The rep notes: “Letitia has been recovering in London since September from injuries sustained on the set of Black Panther 2 and is looking forward to returning to work early 2022. Letitia kindly asks that you keep her in your prayers.”
This story first appeared in the Nov. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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