”I would hate to be Bob Chapek… having to figure out how you go from the gay rights issue to the abortion issue,“ one expert says
If you’re wondering why not one of Hollywood’s major studios has spoken out over the threat to abortion rights posed by the Supreme Court’s likely repeal of Roe v. Wade, it’s not because plenty of people aren’t angry.
But leaders of the entertainment industry seem hamstrung between their overwhelming opposition to the end of abortion rights and the fear of alienating large parts of the country where abortion may soon become illegal.
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“If the states decide after the Supreme Court ruling [to ban abortion], it’s going to be hard as a studio to say, ‘We’re not going to do business there.’ We’re not going to do business in half the country? A studio’s job is not to divide and conquer, like politics. A studio’s job is to aggregate as many people as they can,” Howard Bragman, a crisis PR veteran, told TheWrap.
“The question becomes, how are you going to protect your employees, how are you going to protect your people and your human rights and their dignities?” he continued, adding that he’s firmly pro-choice. ”At the same time, you’re allowing these states to have their political freedoms, and that’s a very challenging balancing act, and there’s going to be mistakes made.”
TheWrap reached out to all the major studios about their positions on the pending Supreme Court ruling, whether they would consider relocating productions or covering travel expenses for employees in those states who may seek abortions — and none responded to a request for comment except Sony, which had no comment.
Insiders told TheWrap that female creatives and executives at the highest levels across the industry are “outraged” and have real “fury” following the leaked draft by Justice Samuel Alito that threatens to overturn the 49-year precedent established by Roe v. Wade. But unlike in 2019 when Hollywood united in condemning Georgia’s “fetal heartbeat” law that effectively banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, many realize that taking on half the country — where abortion bans will go into effect almost immediately — and the highest court in the land is far more complicated.
One talent agent even said that the political backlash and retaliation Disney faced over Florida’s recent “Don’t Say Gay” legislation has made them and other studios “much more nervous” about how to respond, illustrating how complicated it is becoming for any corporation to take a public stance on a politically divisive issue. In that instance, Disney CEO Bob Chapek tried to thread the needle between ducking political involvement and trying to support its own LGBTQ employees, and failed on both counts. Worse, he provoked DeSantis to retaliate with new legislation to revoke Disney’s long-standing special tax status in the state.
“Anything you do gets reactions from somebody else. Individuals will support organizations that advocate punishing some states that are pro-life and are anti-abortion, but a lot of the corporations are going to be very wary of what they do. But I suspect there will be a lot of pressure,” Stephen Galloway, dean of Chapman University’s Dodge Film School, told TheWrap. “I would hate to be Bob Chapek with a big park in Florida having to figure out how you go from the gay rights issue to the abortion issue.”
And others doubted the practicality of making such a dramatic move to overhaul or suspend TV and film production in states such as Georgia, Texas, Louisiana and Florida that are the most likely to adopt abortion bans, all of which the Motion Picture Association says have among the most film and TV productions in the country outside of New York and California.
“Wherever a studio has studios built, they ain’t going anywhere,” one talent manager said, under the condition of anonymity. “Would I try and get it so that nothing would be in a state without access? I might look twice at that. Would I win that argument at the end of the day?”
But that pressure is mounting. Three of Hollywood’s major guilds, including the Directors Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America West, have condemned the Supreme Court’s recent draft decision and defended the reproductive rights of their members.
While they and other organizations have stopped short of calling for boycotts of states that adopt anti-abortion laws, they’re urging leaders to use their political leverage by any means necessary, such as considering abortion rights when choosing production locations.
“WIF (Women In Film) expects entertainment industry leaders to protect their employees’ healthcare, which includes the ability to access safe abortions,” the organization said in an exclusive statement to TheWrap. “On an issue where a majority of Americans support the protection of Roe v. Wade, we expect screen industry leaders to use their power and lobbying efforts to hold politicians accountable to this constitutional right.”
“As much as corporations might not want to think or talk about reproductive health — let alone use the word abortion — they must start thinking about it, talking about it and using the word,” Jean-Marie Navetta, director of Learning and Inclusion for PFLAG National, an LGBTQ+ rights organization told TheWrap. “Employees can only bring their best and whole selves to work when their best and whole selves are respected, valued, and protected; this decision will have far-reaching consequences for any person in the workforce who can become pregnant. Abortion is essential health care, ensuring that pregnant people are free to make deeply personal decisions about their own bodies, their families and their futures. Employers will need to show their workers that, while the Supreme Court might not have the backs of cisgender women, trans men, non-binary or intersex people, they do.”
But conversations about how to protect women’s rights are already happening on the micro and macro levels. One talent manager told TheWrap that while it’s too early to declare whether boycotts could crop up before the Supreme Court has issued its ruling, many in Hollywood are strategizing on the best way to support women who will be without access to safe and legal abortions.
“The heart is there,” the talent manager said. “It’s about showing the women in these states that we understand that they’re screwed, and that we are not abandoning them and that we are here to help them.”
The manager said she respects the step taken last week by UTA, which announced it would cover travel expenses for employees needing to go out of state to receive reproductive health care. Companies like Amazon and Apple have taken similar steps, and it could provide a framework for how other major studios might respond.
But that too may not be a perfect solution if individual states attempt to put penalties on local residents who seek abortions out of state. Complicating things further is the moving target that corporations will face in influencing political action across multiple states.
“It’s not just the laws, it’s the nastiness that’s attached to it. Hollywood is going to be put in a very tough position, and they’re going to have to get some great thinking, and some of the best thinking needs to come not from white men at the top but from women and young women on the front lines and in those states,” Bragman said. “It’s something we haven’t dealt with in 50 years, and before Roe v. Wade, corporations wouldn’t have touched an issue like this. This is fresh territory. Are they going to have a ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ for their employees? What is it going to be?”
There’s also been an evolution on the discussion over pulling productions out of states that enact abortion bans. After Georgia passed a controversial law restricting voting access in 2021, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams persuaded many out-of-state progressives that a full-scale boycott only hurts the underrepresented communities in the area where many studios are located.
Galloway says that in fact many conservative politicians in places like Georgia would more than welcome liberal Hollywood types leaving town and taking with them their political influence.
And to that end, one academic told TheWrap that despite attempts to increase filming opportunities and incentives in North Carolina, she’s consistently come up against opposition from state legislatures.
“You think this will have a direct effect on tipping their thinking or make them afraid to go against abortion rights, the danger is it may actually do the opposite,” Galloway said. “Any political action is a very complicated thing and can sometimes hurt the very people it supports.”
Perhaps the biggest fear however is that Roe v. Wade is just the first of many dominoes that could fall. In speaking with TheWrap last week, the directors of the abortion documentary “The Janes” noted how the draft opinion from Justice Samuel Alito laid the groundwork for rollbacks in constitutional protections for same-sex marriage, contraceptive use and even interracial marriage. And with an ever-moving target, many corporations will have to think carefully about their next steps.
“Where does it stop? Is this going to be about protests about abortions, or is it going to be protests about all the things liberals and minorities thought they had won in the last few years,” Galloway said. “There has been fury about many things in Hollywood, and historically it’s very hard to turn that into a very specific agenda of action points… We’ve seen that with the #MeToo movement, we’ve seen that with Black Lives Matter. How do you turn rage and anger and principle into action?”
Jeremy Fuster contributed to this report.