Disney threatens to boycott Georgia if 'religious liberty' bill becomes law

The Walt Disney Co. said Wednesday it could pull its productions from Georgia if Gov. Nathan Deal signs the controversial "religious liberty" legislation, a move that could hobble the state's fast-growing film and TV industry.

The statement from Disney and subsidiary Marvel Studios raised the pressure on Deal, who has until May 3 to decide whether to sign the legislation approved last week in the Georgia Legislature.

“Disney and Marvel are inclusive companies, and although we have had great experiences filming in Georgia, we will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law,” a Disney spokesman said.

A recent string of high-profile Disney films were produced in Georgia, including "Ant-Man" and "Captain America: Civil War." Marvel is now shooting "Guardians of the Galaxy 2" at Pinewood Studios in south Atlanta.

AMC Networks, the cable outlet that shoots "The Walking Dead" in Georgia, also called on Deal to veto the measure on Wednesday. The network said in a statement that "discrimination of any kind is reprehensible" and praised him for criticizing a previous version of the legislation.

The entertainment firms joined a host of other international heavyweights that voiced their opposition to the measure, which passed the Georgia Legislature last week. Executives from Apple, Salesforce and other tech firms have urged Deal to veto the legislation, while the NFL warned it could risk Atlanta's bid for the Super Bowl.

The California Endowment, a private endowment fund based in Los Angeles, also sent letters to four Georgia-based corporations Wednesday warning that it could pull millions of dollars in investments from the state if the measure is enacted. The extent of the fund's investments in Georgia is not immediately clear.

"We wholeheartedly agree with the characterization of this legislation as discriminatory, bad business and bad for Georgia," the fund said in a letter.

Religious conservatives have long sought a way to strengthen legal protections for opponents of same-sex marriage, but the effort crystallized this legislative session on the heels of the Supreme Court's landmark ruling. Critics warn that it amounts to legalized discrimination and warn of a corporate backlash similar to the blowback Indiana faced.

Deal said earlier this month he would reject any measure that amounted to discrimination, but he hasn't suggested whether he would veto this specific legislation. He's long trumpeted the state's vibrant movie industry, which has taken off under a tax credit championed by Deal and his predecessor Sonny Perdue.

The incentives, which offers up to 30 percent tax credits to big-budget productions, has made Georgia a hotbed for movie production. The state estimates nearly 250 film and TV productions were shot in Georgia in fiscal 2015, netting $1.7 billion in direct spending and an economic development impact of more than $6 billion.

More: Learn more about the legislation here.

MoreThe behind-the-scenes story on Georgia’s religious liberty debate

MoreWeeks of debate ahead over Georgia’s religious liberty bill

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.