Disney Says It Will Be ‘Very Difficult’ to Film in Georgia if State’s Anti-Abortion Law Takes Effect

Three of the world’s biggest entertainment companies — Netflix, Disney and WarnerMedia — say they may stop producing movies and TV shows in Georgia if the state’s new abortion law takes effect.

Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger and Mickey Mouse look on before ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), November 27, 2017 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger and Mickey Mouse look on before ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), November 27, 2017 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

And a fourth, Comcast’s NBCUniversal, says the spread of these anti-abortion bills, if upheld by the courts, “would strongly impact our decision-making on where we produce our content in the future.”

The state is a hub for entertainment industry production, in part because of generous tax breaks Georgia offers filmmakers and producers.

But the companies are warning that they might have to give up those tax incentives and leave the state — flexing their financial muscles in a way that’s guaranteed to get the attention of local political leaders.

Earlier this month Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, signed a bill that would ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually at about six weeks of pregnancy.

The restrictive new law, should it survive court challenges from the ACLU and women’s rights groups, is set to take effect on January 1.

Prominent celebrities and some production companies have vowed to boycott Georgia as a result. But the deep pockets of Netflix and Disney mean the companies have louder voices. They are citing the concerns of the predominantly liberal-leaning stars and producers who make their comedies, dramas and other productions.

Disney CEO Bob Iger was asked about the situation on Wednesday. He told Reuters that the studio will find it “very difficult” to film in Georgia if the new law takes effect.

“I think many people who work for us will not want to work there, and we will have to heed their wishes in that regard. Right now, we are watching it very carefully,” Iger said.

He was interviewed at the opening of the new Stars Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land at Disneyland in California. But the question has loomed over Hollywood studios for several weeks now.

When the bill was signed into law, the heads of several production companies said they would not film in the state. They included Christine Vachon, chief executive officer of Killer Films; David Simon, creator of “The Wire” and “The Deuce” who heads Blown Deadline Productions; and Mark Duplass of Duplass Brothers Productions.

Director Reed Morano canceled plans to scout locations in Georgia for a forthcoming Amazon series. And actor Kristen Wiig said that a comedy project had pulled out of the state.

Then came Netflix’s statement on Tuesday.

“We have many women working on productions in Georgia, whose rights, along with millions of others, will be severely restricted by this law,” Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos told Variety. “It’s why we will work with the ACLU and others to fight it in court. Given the legislation has not yet been implemented, we’ll continue to film there, while also supporting partners and artists who choose not to.” But — here’s the but — “should it ever come into effect, we’d rethink our entire investment in Georgia.”

AT&T’s WarnerMedia, which is the parent company of HBO, TNT, TBS, CNN, and other brands, also said the company may stop making “new productions” in the state if the bill takes effect.

“We operate and produce work in many states and within several countries at any given time and while that doesn’t mean we agree with every position taken by a state or a country and their leaders, we do respect due process,” WarnerMedia said. “We will watch the situation closely and if the new law holds we will reconsider Georgia as the home to any new productions. As is always the case, we will work closely with our production partners and talent to determine how and where to shoot any given project.”

WarnerMedia has thousands of employees in Georgia, including at the headquarters of CNN in Atlanta.

One distinction between existing operations and one-off movie and TV productions is that employees are generally eligible to vote and engage in state politics, while actors and producers who fly in for a few months to shoot a movie are not.

Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams tweeted about the issue on Wednesday evening after Iger’s comments were published.

“Georgia stands to lose Netflix & Disney. This means lost jobs for carpenters, hair dressers, food workers & 100s of small businesses grown right here. Billions in economic investment headed to states eager to welcome film + protect women.” She added a hashtag: “Consequences.”

Strict anti-abortion bills have been passed by Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, and Louisiana this year. The bills are designed in part to provoke a court fight, potentially leading to a Supreme Court reexamination of abortion rights.

NBCUniversal cited this legal reality in its statement on Thursday.

“We fully expect that the heartbeat bills and similar laws in various states will face serious legal challenges and will not go into effect while the process proceeds in court,” the company said. “If any of these laws are upheld, it would strongly impact our decision-making on where we produce our content in the future.”

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