UPDATED: Hungary’s parliament passed a law on Tuesday that bans the dissemination to minors of content deemed to promote homosexuality and gender change — a move that has drawn condemnation from leading broadcasters and cast a shadow over one of the world’s top production hubs.
But it remains to be seen what the impact will be on a hotbed of Hollywood production that has hosted shoots such as Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ sci-fi tentpole “Dune,” Sony’s “The Nightingale,” Amazon Studios’ “Birds of Paradise,” TNT’s “The Alienist: Angel of Darkness,” and the Netflix fantasy series “The Witcher” (pictured).
German media company RTL’s Hungarian arm, which is the country’s largest broadcaster by audience size, said in a statement co-signed by broadcasters including HBO, SPI International and A+E Networks that it “condemned homophobia,” adding that if enforced, the legislation could force the likes of Harry Potter and series like “Modern Family” and “Friends” into late-night TV slots. “We worry that the bill gravely harms freedom of expression, human rights and basic freedoms,” the statement added.
Several industry insiders in Budapest were reluctant to discuss such a politically charged issue or speculate on how it might impact the sizzling hot production services industry, which brought a record $565.6 million in direct spending into the Central European country in 2019.
Mihály Tóth, of Origo Studios, which is currently hosting Marvel’s “Moon Knight” series for Disney Plus and recently wrapped shooting on Lionsgate’s “Borderlands,” said that “many Hungarian filmmakers expressed their solidarity” with the LGBTQ community, adding that “a law passed during an election period would do no good if it undid” the work done in building a thriving local industry.
The measure could nevertheless put pressure on U.S. studios to rethink their business in Hungary and other countries where strict anti-LGBTQ laws are on the books, much like similar legislation has led to a backlash in the U.S.
Disney threatened to boycott Georgia over its anti-LGBTQ laws in 2016, and the company was joined by Netflix, WarnerMedia, Sony and other studios in threatening to take their business elsewhere over the controversial anti-abortion law proposed by the state in 2019. Netflix moved its hit series “Outer Banks” from North Carolina because of that state’s controversial anti-LGBTQ laws, which had already prompted protests from the likes of A+E Networks and 21st Century Fox in 2016.
It’s uncertain whether such measures will be mooted in Hungary, as studio heads weigh the risks of potential PR fallout. In a statement provided to Variety, WarnerMedia, which owns Warner Bros. and TNT, says it “does not tolerate homophobia, prejudice or discrimination.”
“We stand against all forms of homophobia, prejudice or discrimination and are proud to believe in an inclusive and collaborative society that is enriched by a diversity of voices and experiences,” the statement read. “The enduring power of all of our stories can open our eyes to the world, to each other and to new and different perspectives.”
Sony and Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Netflix declined to comment on whether this legislation would impact the streaming giant’s operations in the country. Last year the company canceled production of its Turkish original “If Only” over government censorship of a gay character in the script, although the streamer said that would not impact other ongoing productions in the country.
Hungarian film commissioner Csaba Káel told Variety that the anti-LGBTQ legislation, which was tacked onto a separate bill that increased the penalties for pedophilia, is “principally strengthening the child protection system,” and expressed hopes that the industry would not be affected by any potential backlash.
“Hungary offers highly skilled film professionals, world-class facilities, amazing locations and a generous tax rebate to the international film community,” he added. “I firmly believe all these aspects are of more importance than politics.”
Origo’s Tóth said that “any boycott on the current situation would in fact put not the Hungarian government but Hungarian filmmakers and their families in an awkward position.”
“Political ideologies, parties and presidents are constantly changing, in the United States as well as here in Hungary. But the films made here remain,” he added. “We believe that Hollywood’s decision makers are smarter than a hasty decision.”
Gay marriage is not recognized in Hungary, where same-sex adoptions were banned in 2020. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the hardline nationalist leader who has railed against immigrants and the LGBTQ community, faces an election next year.