Netflix becomes first major studio to take a stand on the ‘heartbeat’ abortion bill

Originally posted Tuesday, May 28, 2019 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Netflix, which produces several productions in Georgia including "Ozark" and "Stranger Things," released a statement vowing to work with the ACLU and others to fight the highly restrictive "heartbeat" abortion bill Gov. Brian Kemp signed earlier this month.

The dominant streaming service is the first major production studio to make any public statement regarding the bill. Independent studios, producers and actors have vowed to either boycott the state or to stay while providing funding to groups trying to stop the law from actually happening in 2020.

The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents major studios including Netflix, earlier this month offered a “wait and see” statement, noting that similar bills in other states have “either been enjoined by the courts or is currently being challenged. The outcome in Georgia will also be determined through the legal process. We will continue to monitor developments.”

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos Tuesday released a stronger statement:  "We have many women working on productions in Georgia, whose rights, along with millions of others, will be severely restricted by this law. It's why we will work with the ACLU and others to fight it in court. Given the legislation has not yet been implemented, we'll continue to film there - while also supporting partners and artists who choose not to. Should it ever come into effect, we'd rethink our entire investment in Georgia."

So if producers or actors refuse to work in Georgia for a Netflix production, it won't stop them. Jason Bateman, who stars in and executive produces "Ozark," is taking a middle ground, saying he will leave Georgia if the law goes into effect in 2020. He is currently shooting an HBO series "The Outsider" and Netflix's third season of "Ozark" in Georgia.

Netflix’s statement makes it clear the studio would likely follow Batemen and seek other places to shoot if the abortion restrictions pass legal muster.

Among the shows Netflix has shot here over the past four years include “Ozark,” “Stranger Things,” “Insatiable,” “The Haunting of Hill House,” “Queer Eye” “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings,” “Sextuplets” and “First and Last.” Netflix shoots in multiple studios in metro Atlanta.

Kris Bagwell, who runs EUE Screen Gems, has several Netflix productions on his lot. He said last week he lost a Netflix movie because of the law. A film produced by Kristen Wiig and an Amazon Prime series have also officially announced they were skipping Georgia after originally committing to the state.

Several productions already coming here such as Ron Howard's film "Hillbilly Elegy" and Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams' HBO series 'Lovecraft Country" have chosen to stay here while supporting the ACLU and others to legally ward off the law.

Kemp said he signed the measure, which largely restricts any abortion after six weeks from inception, to uphold a campaign promise and stand for "Georgia values."

He isn’t yet fazed by any tangible fallout from the law.

“I’m sure people will protest. People protested during the session,” Kemp told the AJC last week.“ A lot of these folks are the same people who worked against me in the election. They said the same thing after I was sworn in. Now they’re saying the same thing after I did what I promised Georgians I would do. I know they’re mad at me for doing what I said I would do, but I think most Georgians appreciate that.”

The state’s tax credits remain among the most generous in the world for TV and film producers. Unlike most other states, Georgia’s tax credits are uncapped. Last fiscal year, Georgia handed out $800 million in tax credits, more than Canada, New York, California, Louisiana or New Mexico.

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