Several major production hubs in the Peach State are located in counties where Black voters turned out for Joe Biden during the 2020 election
After Georgia lawmakers signed restrictive new voting measures into law last week, Hollywood filmmakers and actors have been weighing whether to continue shooting projects there or boycott the state that is home to dozens of entertainment productions.
For filmmakers based in the state like Tyler Perry, it’s important for those in Hollywood to have some perspective.
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“As a Georgia resident and business owner, I’ve been here a few times with the anti-abortion bill and the LGBTQ discrimination bill. They all sent a shockwave through Georgia and the nation but none of them managed to succeed. I’m resting my hope in the DOJ taking a hard look at this unconstitutional voter suppression law that harkens to the Jim Crow era,” Perry said on Tuesday. “As some consider boycotting, please remember that we did turn Georgia blue and there is a gubernatorial race on the horizon – that’s the beauty of a democracy.”
Perry’s plea echoes those of other filmmakers and actors in Georgia who asked their West Coast counterparts to reconsider pulling their productions from the Peach State in protest, a prospect that was raised after James Mangold, who shot parts of his 2019 film “Ford v. Ferrari” in Georgia, took to Twitter last Thursday to say that he would not direct a film in the state after passage of a 100-page law that has been widely derided for requiring voters to show driver’s licenses or state ID, restricting ballot drop boxes and even criminalizing the act of handing out waters to those waiting in line.
“Georgia has been using cash to steal movie jobs from other states that allow people to vote. I don’t want to play there,” Mangold said, though he stopped short of calling for an industry-wide boycott. “I am not telling anyone else what to do. I just can’t work there till this changes.”
The major production hubs in Georgia overlap with urban counties that gave Joe Biden a critical victory in the 2020 election and where grassroots organizers focused their efforts to turnout votes for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in their successful campaigns that flipped control of the U.S. Senate to the Democrats. A look at the county breakdown in Georgia shows that both Biden and the two Dem senators drove up turnout in counties surrounding Atlanta as well as other major cities like Macon, Savannah, Athens and Augusta.
While the rural, Republican-leaning areas of the state are sometimes used for on-location shooting, the soundstages that bring the biggest Hollywood blockbusters — and the biggest economic impact — are mostly located in Democrat strongholds. Take Blackhall Studios, which has recently been used to shoot films like “Venom,” “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and “Jumanji: The Next Level.” The soundstage complex is located in DeKalb County, which has a population that is 54% Black, according to the most recent census data and became ground zero for Black voter organizing this past year, with 83% of the more than 366,000 votes cast in the county last November going to Biden.
Then there is Trilith, formerly known as Pinewood Studios, which has become the core shooting location for Marvel Studios with blockbusters like “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Endgame” being filmed there. Marvel Studios has continued its work at Trilith with their new series of Disney+ streaming shows, which so far include “WandaVision,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” starring Anthony Mackie, the upcoming “Loki” series starring Tom Hiddleston, and “Hawkeye” featuring Jeremy Renner. Trilith is located about 22 miles south of Atlanta in Fayette County, which went to Trump in 2020 but by a margin of 4,894 votes compared to 11,779 in 2016.
The reliance of thousands of middle and working class residents on the economic boost Georgia’s film industry provides via these soundstages is something that is on the mind of “The Outpost” director Rod Lurie, who tweeted his concerns in a response to Mangold.
I'm quite willing to join some of my peers boycotting Georgia as a filming locale. But, first, I wanna hear the wishes of @staceyabrams, @ReverendWarnock , and other black leaders to hear what they'd like us to do. Because this well intended stand could hurt…
— Rod Lurie (@RodLurie) March 27, 2021
“Many people moved to and or established themselves in Georgia because of the film industry. I am not disagreeing with @mang0ld at all… I just feel for those people who, through no fault of their own, will lose work,” Lurie tweeted. Georgia-based actor Steve Coulter, who has appeared in shows like “Yellowstone” and “P Valley,” responded to Mangold that the boycott would only “hurt thousands of rank & film actors & crew. Think before you cancel.”
Likewise, “Mystic Pizza” screenwriter Amy Holden Jones argued that refusing to shoot in Georgia “is a solution that costs you nothing” and pushed Mangold to donate to voting rights groups.
“Film and television shoot in Atlanta, the blue heart of the state,” she tweeted. “Eliminate production and you harm democratic voters, hard working people, not the representatives elected by the red rural areas.”
According to Georgia.org, films currently shooting in Georgia are Dwayne Johnson’s “Black Adam,” Amazon’s “Emergency” and “My Best Friend’s Exorcism,” as well as indies “A Dangerous Thing,” “Christmas in Pine Valley,” “Devotion” and “Home Safe.” Other TV shows filming there are “Black Lightning,” “Cobra Kai,” “Doom Patrol,” “Dynasty,” “Homegrown,” “Power Puff Girls,” “Star Girl” and “The Walking Dead,” among others.
One Hollywood insider speaking anonymously to TheWrap also referred to the anti-abortion bill from 2019, when several films pulled out of making movies in Georgia in reaction to the state’s “heartbeat bill” around abortions. The bill, which banned abortions on fetuses after six weeks of pregnancy, was similarly passed through the GOP-controlled legislature and signed by Kemp in May 2019, but was ruled unconstitutional by a federal district judge this past July.
As the abortion bill was making its way through the legislature, a letter signed by more than 50 filmmakers and actors — including Judd Apatow, Amy Schumer and J.J. Abrams — promised to pull future productions out of Georgia if it was passed. But the insider said he’s sensing “less militarism” this time around, and that conversations he’s heard are more about needing to do something but being smart about it, and boycotting might not be the best route.
“I’m not sensing from people in Hollywood that people are lining up behind Mangold,” the insider said. “Most people are taking the other tact, that there are other ways to get this done instead of hurting people.”
The insider also said that most productions already filming there, or ones that are lined up to start soon, probably won’t pull out of the state due to the costs associated with relocating a production.
Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, echoed a similar sentiment on Twitter last week, writing, “please stop the #BoycottGeorgia talk. That would hurt middle class workers and people grappling with poverty. And it would increase the harm of both racism and classism.”
The Black List founder and TV and film producer Franklin Leonard retweeted King’s post, adding “Listen to the people who have been doing this work longer than you’ve been thinking about the issues and who will have to contend with the consequences when you go back to not thinking about them at all.”
Abrams, political leader and a voting rights activist, on March 25 denounced the new bill, calling it “Jim Crow in a suit + tie: cutting off access, adding restrictions, encouraging more “show me your papers” actions to challenge a citizen’s right to vote. Facially neutral but racially targeted… But we will not be defeated by their worst actions & instincts. We will spread the word, we will sue & we will win. For democracy.”
However, the Hollywood insider said that because Disney is one of the biggest studio’s to use the state’s tax credit to shoot both film and TV projects in Georgia, what they do in response to this new bill will set a barometer for others. A spokesperson for Disney has not yet responded to TheWrap’s request for comment.