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When I was a lawyer practicing in rural Southwest Georgia, my favorite cases were the opportunities to represent clients who could not afford to pay me. Some were appointed to me by the court, while others just came to me with such a compelling story that I was not capable of turning them away. It is in my DNA to stand up and fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. That is the purpose of this column.
I’ve been involved in the growth and expansion of the film and television industry in Georgia for 20 years. Yes, Georgia has passed legislation that has infuriated millions of people and caused some in our industry to call for a wholesale boycott of an entire state. I absolutely and completely support anyone’s right to free speech. However, I’d like the folks who are considering abandoning Georgia to consider the most immediate victims of this action.
First, Georgia’s entertainment industry has spawned the creation of “career academies” in high schools around the state. I personally have seen these schools thriving in one of the poorest, most crime-riddled areas in Georgia. These high schoolers are, for the first time, excited about school, where they can learn writing, producing and directing in addition to the technical arts of editing, camera operation, and sound and lighting design. It’s a great way to get high schoolers excited about STEM education. These kids are our future fellow SAG-AFTRA members, our fellow DGA members, our fellow PGA members and WGA members.
Second, the University System of Georgia created the Georgia Film Academy, a visionary vocational school curriculum that allows blue-collar, minimum-wage craftsmen and tradespeople to be certified by both the University System and the appropriate unions to be eligible to work on union sets. This program, in a matter of a few months, enables these adult students to rocket themselves out from below the poverty line into the strange and wonderful world of the upper middle class. The graduates become our fellow IATSE members.
Third, we now have entire communities (including public school systems and indigent care) that rely on our beloved entertainment industry. Once upon a time, our city of Senoia was just a bump on the road. Now, thanks to The Walking Dead, that city that time forgot is a bustling tourist attraction. These folks also provide some of the best craft services on the planet.
Finally, a few years ago it seems, Hollywood woke up to the fact that regardless of its motives, it had become objectively sexist and racist when it came to the hiring of women and minorities. In Georgia, however, one of the largest crew-placement services is owned and run by a woman. Our largest production studio is run by Tyler Perry. We have Areu Bros. Studios, the first Latino-owned and -operated, fully operational studio in the country. Georgia’s production community offers minorities and women more real opportunity on set than Los Angeles. We did it because we didn’t see any other way to have the best possible crews for every production in Georgia.
A boycott of our state will not impact the politicians you so hate (at least in the short term). However, a boycott will immediately hurt the high school kids in our career academies who finally have a vision and a plan of learning a trade that they can use for a lifetime. A boycott would immediately hurt the new graduates of the Georgia Film Academy, who have just been hired on some of the shows and features you now demand be boycotted. These men and women are on the precipice of beginning a new life in which they have the opportunity to do fulfilling, creative work for wages that will allow them to not “just get by” but enjoy the fruits of their labors. Finally, your boycott will decimate the single mom who used all of her savings to open a bed and breakfast in Senoia so that she could better provide for her family. This is the collateral damage, the forgotten underdogs, in today’s scorched-earth political strategies.
I write this not in an attempt to temper or disrespect those who harbor very, very passionate views toward my beloved state. I see you. However, I’d like to point out some of the other choices other folks in our industry has made in regard to Georgia. The MPAA recognizes that the controversial bill is not set to go into effect until January, which will certainly be delayed further by the many lawsuits that have been filed against it. In fact, the bill is very likely to get overturned. The MPAA has chosen to monitor the situation until everyone knows if the law will ever be applied.
Of course, J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele have come up with the most creative and impactful solution. They will film Lovecraft Country in Georgia and then donate their profits to Fair Fight Georgia, the local chapter of the ACLU, and Stacey Abrams’ efforts to fight the measure in court. Instead of lobbing hashtags into Georgia from the safety of Malibu, Abrams and Peele have joined the troops on the ground — ensuring that no innocents get harmed while fighting this political battle.
This missive ends where it began. I respect and admire anyone who has the gumption to fight for what they believe in. I only ask that in fighting your battles you use a surgical strike on your issue and don’t carpet bomb my home and my people. A boycott will have the immediate impact of taking away educational and job opportunities from folks who don’t have time for politics — they are too busy working around the clock to feed, clothe and take care of their families. Ask anyone who has ever filmed in Georgia — they’ve felt the very real love and appreciation from our local crews and communities on every single project.
A previous version misspelled the title of Lovecraft Country.
Patrick Millsaps is the chairman and CEO of Londonderry, LLC, a vertically integrated media company based in Georgia. He exec produced such films as I’ll See You in My Dreams, Finding Noah and Wild Man.
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