In 2014, Disney opened Pinewood Atlanta Studios. The state of the art facility has been the home of some of Marvel’s biggest productions in recent years including Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, however the studio might be shutting down soon.
Last week, The Georgia State Assembly passed House Bill 757, also known as the Free Exercise Protection Act. The legislation is an anti-LGBT measure which aims to “to provide that religious officials shall not be required to perform marriage ceremonies in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion,” and would allow faith-based organizations to use hiring practices that discriminate against candidates whose sexual orientation might “violate such faith-based organization’s sincerely held religious belief.”
In a statement released this week, Disney became the first major studio to announced that they would move production out of Georgia if the bill is signed into law, “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.” Disney’s threat of a boycott echoes earlier statements by Time Warner (parent company of HBO, Warner Bros, and the Atlanta-based CNN) as well as AMC (which films the majority of The Walking Dead in Georgia).
Chad Griffin, head of the Human Rights Campaign, recently encouraged Hollywood to issue an economic ultimatum, “Join us as we urge TV and film studios, directors and producers, to commit to locating no further productions in the state of Georgia if this bill becomes law.”
In 2014, Georgia was the fifth largest production center in the world (trailing only California, New York, the U.K., and Canada). In 2008, Georgia enacted a 30 percent tax credit in order to court big budget film productions. Over the past seven years, Georgia has attracted more than 120 film shoots, creating 79,000 jobs and approximately $4 billion in wages.
According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD), 248 film and television shows were filmed in the Georgia in 2015, representing $1.7 billion in spending and generating an economic impact of more than $6 billion. Marvel’s announcement is particularly threatening to Georgia’s growing film industry. In 2014, Marvel’s Ant-Man was the first movie to shoot at Pinewood Atlanta Studios. The production of Ant-Man spent $106 million within the state and employed 3,579 Georgians, according to GDEcD.
However, Hollywood is far from the only community speaking out against the bill. At least 20 Fortune 500 companies (including Google, Delta Air Lines, Home Depot, IBM, Marriott, Microsoft, Nordstrom, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, UPS and Verizon) have joined Georgia Prospers, a coalition opposing the bill.
The NCAA and NFL have also suggested that passing the bill would harm Atlanta’s chances of hosting future events including the Superbowl. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank released a statement condemning the bill, arguing it would undermined Georgia’s diversity and inclusivity and that it “would have long-lasting negative impacts.” The Atlanta Braves organization also released a statement opposing the legislation, “Our organization believes in an environment that is inclusive of all people... We are proud to represent Georgia and are opposed to any law that endorses discrimination against anyone.”
Opponents of the bill argue that the legislation would legalize discrimination, however its supporters believe that their religious beliefs are currently being discriminated against. “All Georgia citizens, organizations and businesses need protection from adverse legislation that would infringe upon their religious beliefs regarding marriage, defined in the Bible as the union of one man and one woman,” argued J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, in a statement released last month, “It is wrong to accuse persons of discrimination who live and conduct their businesses according to their deeply held religious beliefs.”
Georgia’s General Assembly is not alone in passing a religious liberty bill. In fact, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 21 states have some form of a religious freedom act and an additional 15 states considered such legislation last year. Just this past Tuesday, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed into law an anti-gay “religious liberty” bill which would allow religious groups at publicly funded colleges and university to prevent LGBT students and faculty from joining their organizations.
In the past, Republican Governor Nathan Deal has vowed to veto any piece of legislation that legalizes discrimination. “We do not have a belief, in my way of looking at religion, that says that we have to discriminate against anybody,” Deal explained, “I don’t think that we have to have anything that allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith.”
Governor Deal has until May 3 to decide whether or not to sign the bill. However, even if he decides to veto the legislation, it’s expected that Georgia’s General Assembly will have enough votes to override the veto.