Hollywood Speaks Out Against Georgia's Anti-Gay Bill

Captain America: Civil War -Chris Evans- H 2016
Courtesy of Zade Rosenthal/Marvel

The Georgia legislature has sent a religious liberty bill to the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal, who has until May 3 to decide whether or not to sign it.

Disney and its Marvel Studios film unit will not shoot future movies in Georgia if a controversial bill that critics contend would legalize anti-gay discrimination is signed by that state's governor. Among other companies, Viacom, 21st Century Fox, Lionsgate, CBS as well as the AMC Networks, which films The Walking Dead in the state, have called on Gov. Nathan Deal to veto the legislation.

"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," a Disney spokesman said Wednesday.

Marvel has filmed such movies as Ant-Man and the upcoming Captain America: Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 in Atlanta, taking advantage of Georgia's attractive tax incentives. While Disney's statement specifically mentioned Marvel, other Disney units like ABC Studios and Disney Studios would also take part in the boycott.

AMC, which produces the hit series The Walking Dead, set to begin filming its seventh season in Georgia in May, did not commit itself to joining a boycott, but it has come out against the proposed law, issuing a statement that said, "As a company, AMC Networks believes that discrimination of any kind is reprehensible. We applaud Governor Deal's leadership in resisting a previous version of this divisive legislation and urge him to reject the current version as well."

On Wednesday afternoon, Viacom, the parent company of Paramount, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, VH1, Spike and MTV, also called on Georgia's governor to reject the legislation. 

"Viacom is proud to champion diversity and acceptance, which are core values of our company," a company spokesperson stated. "We have enjoyed doing business in Georgia for many years and we urge Governor Deal to continue to resist and reject the patently discriminatory laws being proposed.”

Starz21st Century Fox and Lionsgate joined the group Thursday. The pay cabler's original series Survivor's Remorse is currently filming its third season in Georgia. "Starz is an inclusionary company and strongly opposes discrimination in any form, against anyone," the company said in a statement. "As a proud production partner in Georgia for several years, we urge Governor Deal to show the same leadership he has in the past and reject this divisive legislation." 

"On behalf of 21st Century Fox’s many creative partners and colleagues who choose to film their projects in the beautiful state of Georgia, we join the growing coalition of businesses in asking Governor Deal to veto this bill," a company spokesperson said. 

"Lionsgate has deep roots in the State of Georgia in our film, television and location-based entertainment businesses," read a statement. "As a Company committed to diversity, inclusiveness and tolerance, we urge the Governor of Georgia to veto the deplorable and regressive legislation (House Bill 757) that has been sent to him. We take pride in our relationship with the people of Georgia and want to ensure that we can continue to offer our employees and talent there a working environment consistent with our policies and values."

Time Warner, CBS, The Weinstein Company, Sony, Comcast/NBCUniversal, MGM, STX Entertainment and Open Road Films also spoke out against the bill on Thursday as the movement gathered steam. Netflix, which has shot the films The Do-Over and True Memoirs of an International Assassin and the series Stranger Things in Georgia, noted, "We recently completed two films and a series in Georgia and had planned on filming two series there in the coming months. Should any legislation allowing discriminatory practice be signed into state law, we will move our productions elsewhere."

"At Time Warner, diversity in all its forms is core to our value system and to the success of our business," that company said in a statement released Thursday morning. "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. All of our divisions — HBO, Warner Bros. and Turner — have business interests in Georgia but none more than Turner, an active participant in the Georgia Prospers campaign, a coalition of business leaders committed to a Georgia that welcomes all people. Georgia bill HB 757 is in contradiction to this campaign, to the values we hold dear, and to the type of workplace we guarantee to our employees. We urge Governor Deal to exercise his veto."

“CBS Corporation is committed to an environment that values diversity and inclusion throughout the company and in all our business practices. The discriminatory language in Georgia’s proposed religious liberty bill conflicts with these core ethics and values. We call on Governor Deal to exercise his veto power,” a statement read. 

The Weinstein Company, threatening to move an upcoming film about Richard Pryor that Lee Daniels is scheduled to shoot in the state, said, "The Weinstein Co. will not stand behind sanctioning the discrimination of‎ LGBT people or any American. We have plans in place to begin filming Lee Daniels' new film in Georgia later this year but will move the production if this unlawful bill is enacted. We hope Governor Deal will veto bill HB 757 and not allow sanctioned bigotry to become law in Georgia."

A Sony spokesman said, "Georgia Bill HB 757 is anathema to our studio and to all those who value diversity and inclusion. We strongly urge Governor Deal to exercise his veto." Comcast NBCUniversal in its statement added, "At Comcast NBCUniversal, we are proud of our record of inclusion and stand against discrimination of all forms. We joined the voices that urge Governor Deal to protect Georgia from any discriminatory laws." MGM's statement said, "MGM is unequivocally committed to inclusion, diversity and tolerance in all circumstances. We stand beside our many studio partners in publicly encouraging Governor Deal to veto the discriminatory House Bill 757. Our sincere hope is the state repudiates this hateful and bigoted legislation."

The Georgia legislature has sent a religious liberty bill to the desk of Gov. Deal, who has until May 3 to decide whether or not to sign it. The bill, officially titled the Free Exercise Protection Act, says no minister can be forced to perform a same-sex marriage and no individual can be force to attend one — provisions, which critics point out, are already guaranteed by the First Amendment. It then goes on to say no faith-based organization “shall be required to provide social, educational or charitable services that violate such faith-based organizations' sincerely held religious belief” and that such organizations can’t be forced to “hire or retain as an employee any person whose religious beliefs or practices or lack of either are not in accord with the faith-based organizations sincerely held religious belief.” And it further says government can’t “substantially burden” a person’s exercise of religion unless it involves “a compelling government interest” — thereby extending its protections to individuals.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, the bill “opens the door to discrimination in social services and employment against a wide range of Georgians.” The gay-rights group argues that taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies, homeless shelters and drug counseling centers would be free to discriminate against LGBT individuals and couples.

On March 19, Chad Griffin, HRC president, appearing at a fundraising dinner in Los Angeles, urged Hollywood to speak out against the bill, asking filmmakers to boycott the state if the bill becomes law.

“I know we have many entertainment industry leaders in the room tonight," said Griffin. "Like other states, Georgia offers tax incentives for TV and film productions, and as a result, the entertainment industry has a huge economic footprint in the state. But if this bill is signed into law, your employees, your contractors — all those working on your production are at risk of state-sanctioned discrimination. That is wrong. It’s un-American. It’s an affront on all the values Hollywood prides itself on.”

He continued: “You have the influence and the opportunity to not only defeat this bill, but to send a message that there are consequences to passing dangerous and hateful laws like this. And so tonight, we're asking you to 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.”

In the wake of Disney's move today, Griffin said, "We applaud Disney and Marvel for standing up for fairness and equality by sending a strong warning to Governor Deal. It's appalling that anti-LGBT activists in Georgia are trying to pass legislation creating an explicit right to discriminate against LGBT Americans. We urge other studios, major corporations, and fair-mind Georgians to continue speaking out and urging Gov. Deal to veto this heinous piece of legislation sitting on his desk."

The advocacy group GLAAD also recognized Disney's stance, with its president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis saying in a statement, "Disney is the first studio to speak out, but not the last. Now, Governor Deal needs to demonstrate his leadership by vetoing a law that would harm not only LGBT Georgians, but the growing entertainment industry that supports Georgia's economy."

The National Football League warned on March 18 that if the bill is enacted into law, it could affect the league’s decision to hold either the 2019 or 2020 Super Bowl in Atlanta, which is currently one of the finalists to host the games. The Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Hawks have also joined the list of those opposing the bill.

While the Republican governor criticized earlier versions of the bill, threatening to veto any measure that “allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith,” Deal said on March 18 that he was “pleasantly surprised” with the compromise version that was sent to his desk but has not yet indicated whether or not he intends to sign the bill and has until May 3 to decide.

The bill poses a dilemma for Deal, who is regarded as pro-business, since major corporations headquartered in Atlanta such as Coca-Cola, Home Depot, UPS and Cox Enterprises have opposed the bill, joining a business coalition called Georgia Prospers that has stated “for Georgia businesses to compete for top talent, we must have workplaces and communities that are diverse and welcoming for all people, no matter one’s race, sex, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Observed Vans Stevenson, senior vp of state government affairs for the Motion Picture Association of America, "We are confident that Governor Deal will not allow a discriminatory bill to become law in Georgia."

The controversy also comes just as Georgia is trumpeting its success in bringing film and television productions to the state, which offers attractive tax credits of up to 30 percent.

On Feb. 22, the governor joined other Georgia officials in celebrating Film Day, at which it was reported that during fiscal year 2015, which ran from July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015, film and TV productions spent more than $1.7 billion directly in the state, which, in turn, generated a record $6 billion in economic impact.

During fiscal 2015, Georgia played host to 248 feature film, TV movies and series. Among them were such pics as the current Miracles From Heaven and Allegiant as well as TV series including AMC’s The Walking Dead, The CW’s The Vampire Diaries and Fox’s Sleepy Hollow.

March 23, 1:00 pm Updated to include AMC Network's statement.

March 23, 1:35 pm Updated to include additional statements from HRC and GLAAD.

March 23, 4:45 pm Updated to include Viacom statement. 

March 24, 10:20 am Updated to include Starz21st Century Fox and Lionsgate statements.

March 24, 11:34 am Updated to include Time Warner, The Weinstein Company statements.

March 24, 12:21 pm Updated to include statements from Comcast NBCUniversal, Sony and MGM

March 24, 5:10 pm Updated to include Netflix, STX and Open Road

Lesley Goldberg contributed to this report.