A cascade of major media companies has been releasing statements condemning a pending Georgia religious liberty bill, in some cases vowing to withhold production just as the state is successfully on the road to being the Hollywood of the south.
Their public remarks are aimed at Gov. Nathan Deal, who has not yet said whether he will sign the legislation. But it also raises questions about whether studios, having threatened a boycott over a discriminatory law in one state, would apply the same standards to a plethora of other regions where human rights are far from stellar.
Take Abu Dhabi, a metropolis which has become a production hub as it offers a set of generous incentives, with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “The Bourne Legacy” and “Fast & Furious 7” some of the recent productions to shoot there. In the United Arab Emirates, it’s not a question of determining whether a law protecting religious liberty could be used to discriminate against gays, lesbians and transgender individuals. There is already a law that criminalizes homosexuality, punishable by death, according to the Human Rights Campaign. It may not be widely enforced, particularly in cosmopolitan Abu Dhabi, but the law is on the books.
Or there’s Singapore, where visual effects facilities have located with the lure of subsidies, and studios have sent effects work for movies such as “Godzilla” and “Man of Steel.” In that country, male same-sex relations are criminalized.
Closer to home, there is North Carolina. On Thursday lawmakers passed, and the governor later signed, legislation that essentially strips any LGBT protections in local municipalities. The state scaled back its production incentive two years ago, but it is still drawing some productions. Rob Reiner has already vowed not to shoot there unless the law is repealed.
This isn’t to say that studios should just stay silent. The purpose of the flurry of studio statements is to pressure Georgia and prevent a law from happening, rather than react to one that is already on the books. And studios come at it with a healthy degree of leverage: The state, with a generous 30% tax credit, now ranks the No. 3 production area, after California and New York.
But Hollywood still doesn’t escape criticism of engaging in a double standard. After Disney and Marvel issued statements condemning the legislation, one of the bill’s sponsors in the State Senate says it’s hypocritical to single out the state when an 18-year-old Florida law is stronger in its protections of religious freedom.
That “hypocrisy” charge came up when entertainment industry figures launched a boycott in 2014 of the Beverly Hills Hotel and other properties because of their ownership by a group affiliated with the Sultan of Brunei, who has instituted shariah law in his country.
Executives with the Dorchester Collection, the parent company of the property, argued that the boycott would hurt not just employees, but also also asked why other hotel chains, like the Four Seasons, with Saudi royal family ownership, weren’t being singled out.
Those “double standard” arguments didn’t stop groups from shunning the hotel. The Polo Lounge was nearly deserted for a time. The city of Beverly Hills called for Brunei to divest itself from the property.
The sultan has not divested the hotel, and industry figures have started to trickle back.
In Georgia, supporters of the bill are pushing back at Disney, the entertainment industry and even the NFL, which has also issued a statement against the bill.
More than anything, boycotts and threats of boycotts are about timing and strategy, of getting some specific result in a fairly short degree of time. Critics may find contradictions, but those arguments get obscured by the threat of Atlanta missing out on a Super Bowl or the state losing the next “Captain America” megapic.
And while this is pressure on the state’s governor, it’s important to note that the MPAA has expressed confidence that he will not sign the legislation. But studios are now on record against HB 757. Far from being a thorn in his side, they may be helping him out, giving him some cover if he chooses to say no.
Update: More on the context of the Florida law here.