Georgia entertainment industry caught in crossfire over abortion, guns

Entertainment industry workers say calls to leave Georgia over conservative abortion, gun policies is counterproductive.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom bought ads calling on Hollywood to pull out of Georgia over its abortion law. New Jersey’s governor urged seven large Peach State companies to move or expand in the Garden State.

Two other Democratic governors sought in recent days to turn the cancellation of Music Midtown, purportedly over Georgia’s permissive gun laws, into an opportunity to poach a marquee event.

Appeals by Democratic governors for companies to bypass Georgia over the state’s conservative policies have captured national attention. And Stacey Abrams, Gov. Brian Kemp’s Democratic rival in November’s election, has leveraged the potential economic damage from the abortion and gun laws to attack Kemp.

Caught in the middle are workers in the local entertainment industry who fear out-of-state calls for boycotts — or businesses pulling investment and jobs out — would do little more than punish Georgians.

Jaime Rosegren, an on-set dresser in Georgia, said she and many of her colleagues staunchly disagree with the state’s anti-abortion and gun laws. However, she said calls to leave Georgia will not only lead to little action from studios — it’s counterproductive and unfairly blames workers for circumstances out of their control.

“It’s putting a target on our backs to purposefully take work away for something that we have fought very hard against,” Rosegren told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s very petty and short-sighted.”

So far, Hollywood studios have been largely mum about the state’s new abortion limits, though the law’s passage in 2019 triggered calls for the industry to ditch Georgia that Abrams helped quell. Many entertainment and tech firms have announced expanded health coverage to help employees and their dependents seek reproductive care in other states.

There have been recent examples of events skipping Georgia due to conservative policies. Major League Baseball moved the 2021 All-Star game from Atlanta over Georgia’s strict new voting law. The movie “Emancipation,” starring Will Smith, pulled out of Georgia about the same time.

Calls for boycotts, at least so far, do not appear to have been heeded. But that doesn’t mean economic fallout hasn’t happened.

Last week, Music Midtown announced it was cancelling this year’s festival. Though organizers declined to comment, multiple officials familiar with the cancellation said the move happened because state law prohibits festival organizers from banning guns in public parks.

Abrams said in an interview that Kemp is eager to blame Democrats for high inflation but won’t acknowledge that conservative policies at home can cost Georgia investment.

”He will take credit for things that go well, but he takes no responsibility when there are crises,” she said. “He takes no responsibility when there are consequences and when there’s fallout. One of the consequences is that a neighbor state feels that they can invite Music Midtown, something that is grown here organic to Georgia, and try to take it to North Carolina.”

Record-breaking investment

Kemp scoffed at blue states trying to lure business away from the Peach State.

Several film workers said petitions from prominent Democrats plays into his hands, because it gives him an easy rebuttal: Democrats are just trying to take away jobs and influence Georgia voters.

In an interview, Kemp dug in his heels.

“I’m not really worried about what other governors are doing,” he said. “They tried to tell us what to do during the whole pandemic. I didn’t listen to them then, and I’m not going to listen to them now. I’m listening to hardworking Georgians and doing what they want.”

Georgia has become a movie and television production hub over in the past two decades because of lucrative tax credits, far outnumbering those given by California. Kemp’s office announced last week that film productions spent a record-breaking $4.4 billion in Georgia during the last fiscal year.

Georgia is now the third largest state in America for film and TV production behind only California and New York. Three successive Republican governors, Kemp included, have supported the credits in Georgia, touting their job creation and economic impact.

As long as the generous film incentives remain in place, entertainment industry employees say the threat of a mass exodus is unlikely and would only hurt Georgians.

“Leaving the state of Georgia will not help the people you leave behind,” said Jessica Sanchez, a Georgia native who does graphic design and prop work for films.

Kemp’s main pitch for a second term is focused on Georgia’s strong economy. He said Newsom is trying to shift the blame for Hollywood choosing to leave California for more business-friendly states.

“Well, he should have thought about that when he had the film industry closed back during the pandemic and Georgia was open, that’s one reason we’ve kicked their butt over the last couple of years in films is because we’ve been open,” Kemp said. “We trusted the industry to protect their people and their clients and the folks that worked for them.”

‘Running is cowardly’

Andy Rusk has been a stuntman in Atlanta for nearly two decades, adding heart-pumping intensity to “The Walking Dead” and an action flare to Marvel Studios’ “Hawkeye.”

He said Newsom’s petition is no surprise, but it won’t make a dent in Georgia’s film industry until there’s money to back up the call.

“California has been calling for production to leave other states and come back to California for 50 years,” Rusk said. “Those governors can do and say whatever they want, but the industry, the guilds and unions have an interest in keeping their members employed wherever they live.”

The Motion Picture Association of America says Georgia’s film industry is responsible for nearly 38,000 jobs, while more than 137,000 Georgia residents indirectly benefit from the industry. Estimates by the state are far smaller.

When Georgia lawmakers in 2019 approved its new “heartbeat bill,” Georgia faced boycott threats, but they didn’t go far. A federal judge sidetracked implementation of the law, but an appeals court panel allowed it to take effect last month.

Sanchez said boycott calls — including those from Newsom — are self-serving and misplaced.

“I feel like their solution of cutting and running is cowardly,” she said. “If you really care, put your money where your mouth is.”

Sanchez, a member of the IATSE Local 479 union along with Rosegren, said non-Georgia activists need to focus on supporting the state’s film workers rather than using them as political pawns. Rosegren said political donations and voting awareness campaigns would be a better use of time, because most Georgia residents don’t want to uproot their lives.

Rusk said he thinks some of these governors only want to raise their political profiles.

“Maybe he’d make a great president,” Rusk said of Newsom, “but he probably wouldn’t make a very good governor of Georgia, and he probably wouldn’t make a good stuntman.”