‘This is about y’all feeling good, “standing for something” without being inconvenienced. Don’t pretend it’s about us…’
(Jenny Jarvie, Los Angeles Times) When pro-abortion women who work in Georgia’s film industry saw Hollywood stars charge in—urging big film corporations to pull out of their state—it felt like just another punch in the gut.
“We’re the boots on the ground,” said Sara Riney, 46, a set decoration buyer who has worked on “The Walking Dead,” “Pitch Perfect 3” and “Doom Patrol.” “If they cut our legs from under us when we’re out here on the battlefield, how’s that going to help?”
A peanut gallery of liberal celebrities, including Alyssa Milano, “Wire” creator David Simon and George Takei, have taken to Twitter in the last week to call on major entertainment companies to pull out of the state after Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law that would ban most abortions once a fetal “heartbeat” can be detected, at about six weeks.
But women who work in Georgia’s film industry—the top filming location in the United States—say the action is not helpful.
In the last 24 hours, more than 500 film workers have signed a petition, “We are the women of the film & media industry in Georgia,” that urges actors and film directors in Los Angeles not to call on big film corporations to leave the Southern state.
“We now share the burden of condemnation for actions we fought from the beginning,” the petition states. “Please know this: Georgia’s hardworking women and many men in this industry will continue to be the resistance from the inside… Your condemnation is understandable, but what we really need most is allies.”
Rather than urge big corporations to leave Georgia, they say, Hollywood should leverage its economic power to help fund the groups that are helping women endangered by the law.
Molly Coffee, 37, a film production designer, said she and a group of female film workers wrote the petition after getting increasingly frustrated that their message was being ignored.
Last month, when a group of about 40 film workers went to the Georgia State Capitol to protest the bill before it became law, she said, the media honed in on the presence of Milano, asking the actress if she would boycott the state.
“No one was asking us, as women in Georgia, what we wanted and what we needed,” Coffee said. “We are the ones who have been at the Capitol, who have gone door to door for Stacey Abrams. Nobody is including us in the conversation.”
The petition, she said, is a bid to move the conversation beyond grandiose statements on social media about the law, which is expected to be blocked by courts for years over litigation about its constitutionality.
If the new law were to go into effect, that would happen on Jan. 1, 2020.
“I understand in a world in which the voter feels disenfranchised they can think their only power is through the dollar,” Coffee said. “But people aren’t seeing the larger picture—the positive influence the film industry has had on Georgia economically and politically. We came really close to flipping the state purple in the last election. Pulling out of Georgia only abandons women of the state.”
Some major Hollywood players who work in Georgia have taken a different tack to boycotts.
Last week, filmmakers Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams announced that they will shoot an upcoming HBO horror drama, “Lovecraft Country,” in Georgia.
In a statement, they denounced the new abortion ban as an “unconstitutional effort to further restrict women and their health providers” and said their episodic producer fees will go to the ACLU and Fair Fight Georgia, two groups that are fighting the Georgia law.
Over the weekend, Hannah Beachler, a production designer and filmmaker who won an Oscar for her work on “Black Panther,” also urged Hollywood not to leave.
“Don’t boycott Georgia,” she said on Twitter. “Leaving comes from a place of privilege. Stay, donate, help fight w/ the women & children… FIGHT 4 the people, fight against this bill. Don’t abandon those who need us most. Govt. want u 2 go, by design. & when u go they’ll do worse.”
Georgia activists have also taken to Twitter in recent days to rail against Hollywood hashtag activism.
“White liberals who’ve never set foot in this state, who look down on the South, who’ve never organized rural communities or been working class are again doing what they always do: making judgments & calls to action w/out the voices/needs of those most critically impacted,” Aurielle Marie, a black Atlanta essayist and community organizer, said in a lengthy Twitter thread.
“The call to #BoycottGeorgia is more about the ego of white liberals than the lives & safety of working class birthers, esp Black folks who can become pregnant,” she added. “This is about y’all feeling good, ‘standing for something’ without being inconvenienced. Don’t pretend it’s about us.”
Georgia’s film workers have been on edge since the conservative Kemp narrowly won the state’s acrimonious 2018 gubernatorial election.
His opponent, Stacey Abrams, refused to formally concede, accusing Kemp of having purged hundreds of thousands of voters from electoral rolls.
Without her job in the film industry, Riney said, she would likely have to go back to waiting tables. She would lose her healthcare insurance and no longer be able to donate to groups like Planned Parenthood.
“Telling us we won’t have a job anymore—is that really being an advocate? Or are you playing a political game of theater with our lives?” she said. “If you really care about the women of Georgia, ask us the best way to help. We are fighting this law. We know the politics here.”
Some activists say a film boycott would be unlikely to change Republican policy and would harm mostly liberals in the metro Atlanta area who oppose the abortion ban. Most of Georgia’s’ most conservative Republican lawmakers represent rural areas far from the Atlanta film hub and make it a point of pride to identify against Hollywood.
“They’re going to be fine with this industry going away if it means they can regain control of the state politically,” Coffee said.
Still, the abortion law is a risky political strategy for conservatives in this increasingly diversifying Southern state as Republican power slowly recedes and Democrats become more competitive.
Although boycotts have long been a way of influencing policy, historically they have been a way for ordinary people to exert their power on nations and corporations by refusing to buy their products. Calls on big corporations to pull work from a geographic area are somewhat different.
To Riney, Hollywood pulling out of Georgia is not a boycott so much as a walkout.
“A boycott is ‘I’m not going to buy Pepsi’ or ‘I’m not going to watch your movie,'” Riney said. “This is ‘I’m not going to hire anyone on your set. I’m not bringing work to your state.'”
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