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I admire Ted Sarandos. Let me say that right away. Who wouldn’t admire a guy who helped remake the industry’s economics at Netflix, then stood up and declared that his company might have to “rethink” its investment in Georgia, following passage of its draconian anti-abortion law?
I admire Bob Iger, too. God knows there are a hundred reasons to do so, and now here’s another: he spoke out against the law, saying it would be “very difficult” for Disney to continue shooting in Georgia if the recently passed law goes into effect.
I especially admire Ron Howard, a gifted filmmaker who’s one of the most decent and likable men in the business, and who recently told The Hollywood Reporter that he‘d wrestled over whether to shoot his new project, Hillbilly Elegy, in the Peach State, only reluctantly deciding not to do so.
These are all good men. And yet somewhere, in the back of my mind, a nagging thought keeps haunting me: What if they were women?
Would women in their position be content with muttering a few politically correct assertions? Would they go home and rest happy in the knowledge that they’d done nothing more than speechify in the face of one of the most egregious laws in modern U.S. history — the legislation signed last month by Gov. Brian Kemp, banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, basically six weeks into pregnancy?
Wouldn’t women be bringing the guillotine down on Georgia quicker than Kemp could say, “I never liked Hollywood, anyway”?
I don’t question the sincerity of the many men and women who are pro-life. They have every right to say and support what they like. But if you believe in a woman’s right to choose as strongly and passionately as almost everyone at the top of the entertainment business, words aren’t enough.
Words without action simply confirm Gov. Kemp’s belief that Hollywood will never put principle before profit, that it won’t sacrifice the millions it gets from Georgia’s massive tax refunds.
“The Georgia governor is right to bet Hollywood won’t take action and to say it’s just a bunch of people complaining,” scoffs one producer. “What you’re watching is the male mogul mentality on full display: preening, showing off. But what they’re really saying, by their lack of action, is: ‘We’re not moving because the Georgia tax rebate is too good.’”
And there’s the rub: The moguls are too scared to pull the plug. They claim they want to support the hundreds of technicians who’ve uprooted their families and moved to Atlanta for work, but what they really want is to keep their budgets down.
They have worthy influencers telling them to stand firm — like Georgia’s former gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Abrams, who frets about the impact sanctions might have on her state’s economy, as they surely will. But sanctions really work. Just read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and you’ll see how great their effect can be.
Will the moguls indeed take action, as some of them have hinted, if the law goes into effect? I doubt it. Hollywood has a history of pusillanimity, of wavering and waffling, of promising all sorts of things and then back-peddling as soon as the going gets tough.
Back in the 1930s, despite ample evidence of the horrors of Nazism, the studios held onto their German outposts, shipping pictures until the Nazis banned them. Some of the most vocal, anti-Nazi studio heads were still profiting from German revenues as the Nazis led their country toward genocide.
In the 1950s, the studios buckled in the face of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy, blacklisting some of their most talented workers (while secretly employing quite a few who had “fronts” who could serve as middlemen). Too few of the powers-that-be had the courage to say “No.” Even a group of Hollywood celebrities who’d chartered a plane to Washington, D.C., where they voiced their dissent in the early days of the McCarthy era, turned silent when the heat was ratcheted up.
Life is full of compromise, I understand. It isn’t easy to make sweeping decisions, especially political ones, when you’re running a corporate empire. There are shareholders, board members, politicians, audience members, foreign leaders, investors, haters (and sometimes lovers) telling you: “Don’t rock the boat! Keep your eyes on the prize!” — the prize, of course, always being money.
Talented, intelligent, ethical and often charitable super-executives have adhered to this thinking for years. Business is one thing, they seem to believe, politics another. It’s fine if they personally oppose certain laws, as long as their opposition doesn’t hurt their work.
But this is different. Politics and work are inseparable when you’re dealing with basic women’s rights. There’s no law that affects women more than anti-abortion legislation and if Hollywood truly supports #MeToo, it must fight that legislation with everything it’s got.
“This is fundamentally against Hollywood’s ideology,” says the producer. “How ironic that at the peak of the #MeToo movement, Hollywood is only paying lip service to women.”
It’s not enough to wait until the law reaches the Supreme Court, praying that the nine justices (with a conservative majority) will overthrow it. This extreme legislation is an act of provocation that will ripple through the South well before then. Other states have followed Georgia’s lead and other politicians will do the same, unless they know the price is high. Just as money affects Hollywood’s thinking, so it does theirs.
Peter Chernin understands this. That’s why Rupert Murdoch’s former deputy at NewsCorp is putting together a $15 million fund to combat the law, tossing in $1 million of his own money. But more than a legal battle is needed now.
Let Governor Kemp see that Hollywood has teeth and that it’s not just full of windbags. Let the world see that the entertainment industry puts its deepest beliefs above profits. Pull the money out of Georgia.
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