Hollywood is clearly up in arms over the “fetal heartbeat” bill signed into law last month by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. Should the town use the threat of a mass exodus from the film and TV location-friendly state that would decimate Georgia’s thriving production industry, or put Hollywood muscle and money into funding the inevitable legal battle that the ACLU will wage by late summer or early fall to head off the law being enacted next January?
Peter Chernin, long considered a voice of reason in town — he was one of the moguls who worked behind the scenes to end the last crippling writers strike — believes clearly in the legal fight. In an email he wrote with his Chernin Entertainment lieutenant Jenno Topping (read the full missive below) and circulated earlier this week, Chernin challenged Hollywood moguls to contribute $15 million for the ACLU legal battle, seeding the effort with $1 million.
Chernin and his wife Megan set the stage for this last month when they arranged a meet-and-greet at their home May 16 with Louise Melling, the ACLU’s Deputy Legal Director and Director of Center for Liberty. Chernin has set a July 1 date for these funds to be secured for the ACLU.
Meanwhile, Netflix, Disney, WarnerMedia, NBCUniversal, AMC, Sony, CBS and Viacom have stopped short of an exodus, but all have publicly questioned whether they will remain in Georgia long term if that bill becomes law and bans abortions at six weeks — some women aren’t aware they are pregnant at that point — and creates criminal penalties for doctors who perform those procedures. Georgia has become an important Hollywood production hub, with 455 productions, enticed by a 20% tax credit that has helped build a production business worth in excess of a reported $9.5 billion.
Many of the showrunners and heavyweight producers and filmmakers with shows and movies in production or about to start were caught flat-footed. They will personally protest, several said, but keep their planned productions in place, probably because it was too late to make other plans. That included Chernin-produced productions Fear Street, based on the novels by R.L. Stine, and P-Valley. JJ Abrams and Jordan Peele were the first to step up monetarily. They are keeping their HBO series Lovecraft Country in Georgia, but pledged the profits from the show to fight the law.
Some believe that the Georgia law and others like it that are coming from conservative states are partly designed to create test cases for a Supreme Court that has been moving toward a conservative bent after President Trump’s appointments of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the bench. The fear is this will lead to rollbacks on groundbreaking women’s rights cases like Roe V. Wade. So clearly, this is an issue Hollywood is taking seriously.
Will a production boycott help exert financial leverage, or will it merely crush the industry professionals and crews there, who’ll have to move where the work is? And will it harden the hearts of Georgia pols and constituents and create resentment toward a liberal Hollywood establishment that potential Democratic presidential candidates are right now hitting up for campaign funding?
The Key To George Clooney’s Sultan Of Brunei Boycott
While it was a completely different battle, George Clooney just spearhead a boycott of the Sultan of Brunei’s 5-star hotels around the world — including the historic Beverly Hills and Bel-Air hotels — that resulted in the Sultan backpedaling on Brunei’s embrace of cruel death penalty laws for those engaging in gay sexual acts. Clooney wrote two guest columns on Deadline to launch his case for boycott.
Did pressing Hollywood to find other hotels for their meals and meetings really create enough pressure to prod the Sultan of Brunei to rethink laws that Clooney feared could be adopted in neighboring countries? The simple answer is, not exactly. This is the second time the Sultan’s Hollywood-based hotels were targeted in recent years, and the first one petered out with many feeling that the Sultan was indifferent and the only ones who suffered were waiters, car parkers and other hotel staff.
In an upcoming interview with Clooney for Deadline’s Emmy-season magazine Awardsline for Catch-22, Clooney laid out a strategy that was far more complex than a simple boycott. The campaigns are different here, but the resourcefulness is something Hollywood ought to consider on this battleground over women’s rights and abortion.
While he believes the call for boycott did create pressure by placing a spotlight on the possible results of draconian laws that could have legalized the murder of Brunei’s LGBTQ citizens, Clooney said that “More important is what you do with that awareness. I have a foundation called The Sentry, and we chase warlords. The way it started is, we used to try to shame them, catch them doing bad things. You can’t shame them. You realize that, after you get them on the front page of The New York Times and nobody does anything. So then what we did is, we hired all these forensic accountants and we started chasing their finances. You find out, okay, well, they got 400 million dollars in a western bank, and then I go to the western banker and say, you’re laundering money for a warlord, 400 million dollars. And they go, ‘I didn’t know,’ because it’s a shell company.
“They didn’t look so hard, but, okay. I said, ‘well, now you know. And I’m going to hold a press conference in a week, and either you’re going to say no more credit, that you’re out of business with them, or I’m going to say you’re complicit.’ It’s amazing how quickly that changes things. And that’s what happened in Brunei. It changes when all the banks, when Citicorp and Goldman Sachs and all these guys said, ‘we’re out of the Brunei business.’ That is how you screw with them. You can’t make the bad guys do the right thing, but you can make the good guys do the right thing.”
This will be the reverse, because Hollywood eyes the boycott as a last resort, behind the legal battle. The first move here will be for the industry to rally behind Chernin to raise the $15 million by July. That isn’t a slam dunk, because Hollywood leaders are loathe to take hard positions on polarizing issues. Now, if the legal battle against the Georgia law fails and the law is enacted in January, some believe that Georgia’s production business might become like the title of its signature long running drama: The Walking Dead.
Here is the full missive sent to Hollywood power players by Chernin and Topping:
When the “fetal heartbeat bill” was signed into law we were deep into production on two projects, our film trilogy Fear Street and the P-Valley TV series, so were conflicted about contributing to the health of an economy and a state that had declared war on the rights and freedom of its women. On one hand, if we chose the boycott route, thousands of jobs would be lost ultimately damaging workers who rely on production for livelihood, including many women. We also know that the only way to fight the massive, now national incursion on women’s rights is through a legal battle, a battle that needs funding and on the ground support via organizations like the ACLU who are powering up to overturn the law. So our choice became pretty clear, we will stay in Georgia, stand shoulder to shoulder with the women of that state and the states under attack, and fight to win. In doing so will be making a significant donation to ACLU because whatever upside we have needs to be shared with the women everywhere who have the right as human beings to make medical decisions as sovereign individuals.
Chernin’s spokeswoman declined comment.
Below is an MSNBC segment done yesterday with Stacey Abrams, who ran unsuccessfully against Kemp last year, and who’ll meet with Hollywood leaders next week. The governor has pulled back on such a meeting at least so far, per the MSNBC report: