Should we really support Hollywood actors threatening to boycott Georgia — even if we support their pro-choice aims?

If you want to keep money out of politics, you shouldn't try to politicians' hands with economic threats

Justin Lee
New York
Monday 13 May 2019 23:21
Georgia governor Brian Kemp signs controversial Heartbeat abortion ban

The heads of several independent production companies have announced their intentions to boycott filming in the state of Georgia after the signing into law of an anti-abortion “foetal heartbeat bill.”

Among them are David Simon, Christine Vachon, and Mark Duplass. Alyssa Milano has also vowed not to return to Netflix’s Insatiable if the show continues to film in Georgia, and on Friday proposed a “sex strike” on Twitter — drawing scorn from some feminist allies.

House Bill 481, the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, signed 8 May by governor Brian Kemp, provides that "no abortion is authorized or shall be performed if the unborn child has been determined to have a human heartbeat." Similar bills were passed earlier this year in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio. As they run afoul of the fetal viability standard set by Roe v. Wade, it is unlikely that they will be implemented. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have already announced plans to challenge the Georgia law.

Because of the near-certainty that the law will die in court, and its unsuitability as a vehicle for challenging Roe v Wade, it’s tempting to view the Hollywood boycott as mere rhetoric. This would be a mistake. Does anyone doubt that, were the law to go into effect, Alyssa Milano et al would make good on their threats?

If the balance of the film industry joined them — major studios have thus far been reluctant to weigh in — the consequences for Georgia’s economy would be devastating. Catalyzed by generous tax credits, film and television production yielded $9.4 billion in in-state spending between July 2017 and June 2018, about 1.6 per cent of gross state product for 2018. And the industry “supports more than 92,000 jobs,” according to the MPAA.

This isn’t the first time Hollywood has flexed in its muscles in Georgia. In 2016, Disney and Marvel successfully scuttled a bill that would have exempted ministers from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies if doing so violated their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“Disney and Marvel are inclusive companies,” said a spokesperson for Disney at the time, “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.”

The Georgia boycotts are part of a trend in our escalating culture war: the use of economic coercion. This strategy was also employed effectively against the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts of Arizona, Indiana, and Arkansas. More recently, the economic fallout resulting from North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” led to Governor Pat McCrory’s electoral demise and the law’s repeal. Positive developments, perhaps, but do the ends justify the means? When money enters politics, we should always be skeptical — even if we support the issue at hand.

In the above cases, Hollywood served as megaphone for corporate America. While this combination of economic and cultural elites is potent, it is not irresistible. The same strategy was ineffective against Mississippi’s 2016 Religious Liberty Accommodation Act. The state was simply so poor that further economic damage would hardly have been appreciable. A writer for Salon lamented at the time that “the free hand of the market is unable force the hands of bigoted conservative state lawmakers.”

This is a clarifying moment. Alyssa Milano and her peers understandably want to leverage their positions to rectify what they believe is a grievous injustice. But in choosing to boycott Georgia — rather than, say, donate their earnings to the ACLU as J J Abrams and Jordan Peele pledge to do — they signal a rejection of the democratic process. This is not what democracy looks like — and if the left wants to remove the stench of money from politics, its supporters have to play by the same rules.

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