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Why Hollywood May Be Staying Surprisingly Quiet About Georgia's New Voting Law

Christopher Polk | E! Entertainment | NBCUniversal | Getty Images
  • While other corporate giants such as Coca-Cola and Delta have been quick to oppose the Georgia voting law, film studios in the state have been less vocal.
  • Some speculate the industry is hoping the federal government will intervene, while executives express their concerns behind the scenes and pull other levers such as the use of political donations.
  • But another factor could be timing: Amid the coronavirus pandemic, studios are simply unable to make threats that could disrupt production.

While other corporate giants such as Coca-Cola and Delta have been quick to oppose Georgia's new voting law, film studios in the state have been less vocal.

In the past, Hollywood has used the threat of production boycotts in the state to make clear its opinions about Georgia's politics. However, this time around, studios have been largely mum on the matter, leading many to wonder why.

Some speculate the industry is hoping the federal government will intervene, while executives express their concerns behind the scenes or pull other levers such as the use of political donations. But another factor could be timing: Amid the coronavirus pandemic, studios are simply unable to make threats that could disrupt production.

"As a Georgia resident and business owner I've been here a few times with the anti-abortion bill and the LGBTQ discrimination bill," said Tyler Perry, who owns Tyler Perry Studios in Georgia, in a statement Tuesday. "They all sent a shockwave through Georgia and the nation but none of them managed to succeed. I'm resting my hope in the [Department of Justice] taking a hard look at this unconstitutional voter suppression law that harkens to the Jim Crow era."

The new law, which was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp on March 26, includes a restriction on drop boxes, makes it a crime to provide food or water to voters lined up outside polling stations, requires mandatory proof of identity for absentee voting and creates greater legislative control over how elections are run. Opponents say these provisions will disproportionately disenfranchise people of color.

On Wednesday, ViacomCBS became the first major entertainment corporation to publicly condemn the law.

"We unequivocally believe in the importance of all Americans having an equal right to vote and oppose the recent Georgia voting rights law or any effort that impedes the ability to exercise this vital constitutional right," the company posted on Twitter.

AT&T, which owns Warner Media, also made a statement about the law.

"AT&T believes our right to vote is among the most sacrosanct we enjoy, and that free enterprise and companies like ours thrive where elections are open and secure," the company said in a statement. "Consistent with that belief, we are working with other companies that are members of the Georgia Chamber and Metro-Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, as those organizations support policies that promote accessible and secure voting while also upholding election integrity and transparency."

Neither company threatened to boycott the state.

The Hollywood effect

Some have speculated that Hollywood's silence reflects the industry's challenges. It can't afford to boycott the state's filming locations after losing months of production to the coronavirus pandemic. Others think Hollywood executives may just be waiting for more information before making statements.

After all, it took a few weeks after 2019's anti-abortion bill, known as the "Heartbeat Law," was signed before most actors, producers and directors began to threaten boycotts in the state. A federal judge struck down the law last year.

"I think the entertainment industry is sitting this one out until the federal government brings the voting rights [law] to the floor," said Tom Nunan, a lecturer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and founder of the production company Bull's Eye Entertainment.

"It's a murky mess, and knowing the Hollywood culture as I do, I suspect leaders, especially Disney, who has the biggest footprint in Georgia due to the Marvel franchise of films and series, are waiting for the federal response," he said.

Disney didn't immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment. Sony officials also weren't immediately available.

Hollywood has a lot of weight to throw around. The state gets just under $3 billion in direct spending from film and TV production, and another $6.5 billion in additional economic impact. This money goes to hotels, restaurants, gas stations, vehicle rentals and lumber purchases, all things needed for companies to make and produce their projects.

Since 2008, enticing tax incentives have turned the state into "Y'allywood," a production hub for film and television. Georgia has developed infrastructure for big-budget productions and is home to a tremendously skilled workforce of crew members, craftsmen and technicians.

Ryan Millsap, CEO of Blackhall Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, told CNBC that production is "booming" in the state even with additional Covid protocols. He said there are more productions in Georgia than there has ever been and studios have actually had to turn down companies looking for studio space.

Alternatives to boycotts

While the threat of boycotts can be an effective bargaining chip, halting production would also hurt the local crews and other businesses that rely on that income.

"The threats of boycott have been pretty minimal at this time," said Molly Coffee, creative director of Film Impact Georgia and a film industry veteran based in the state. "James Mangold made a statement on Twitter that he would not shoot in Georgia and that has been repeated by folks like Mark Hamill and Debra Messing. The fear is always that others will follow suit."

Mark Hamill, left, and James Mangold
Michael Tullberg | Getty Images; Kevin Winter | Getty Images
Mark Hamill, left, and James Mangold

Russell Williams, professor of film and media arts at American University, suggested that there are other ways that Hollywood could make itself heard.

"Hollywood bears the added costs of protecting their workforce and patrons (where applicable) with fewer ways to recoup that investment due to the pandemic, so maybe there are more targeted ways to get [legislators'] attention," he said. "Donation negation, anyone?"

Hollywood's elite opened their wallets to fund the Senate runoff races in Georgia earlier this year. Federal Election Commission filings show that celebrities including Mark Ruffalo, Jack Black, Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon and Tracee Ellis Ross doled out money ahead of the January election.

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