Is Hollywood about to mess with Texas?
As the state enforces a law that will make parties to almost all abortions vulnerable to civil prosecution — a measure that was upheld by the Supreme Court on Wednesday – show business liberals and corporate giants are feeling pressure to act, multiple industry insiders told Variety.
While the law seeks to ban abortions six weeks after conception, a stage at which most people don’t even know they are pregnant, the most incendiary part of the mandate says anyone assisting the procedure can be sued in civil court. This includes medical staff, family members, or even the person driving a patient to a clinic, one report noted.
Shortly after the law went into effect this week, the likes of Reese Witherspoon and “The Handmaid’s Tale” star Bradley Whitford decried the ban on social media. President Joe Biden called it an “unprecedented assault” on women’s reproductive rights.
Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson predicted that the law will embolden other conservative states, including places like Georgia where many movies and television shows are shot, to put forward similar bans.
“The unthinkable has happened,” McGill Johnson told Variety. “There is now a state in this union where abortion is virtually inaccessible. Roe has effectively been overturned in Texas and there are another 26 states have that have legislatures that are hostile to abortion rights that will move quickly to enact their own laws.”
As precedent shows, however, there are more meaningful measures that the entertainment community can take as a form of protest. In 2019, a similar measure in Georgia sought to ban abortion after six weeks (or at the detection of a fetal heartbeat). Georgia is a massive production hub known for generous tax incentives, and Hollywood contributes billions to the state economy annually, so the industry intended to weaponize its checkbook to rattle lawmakers.
Bob Iger, at the time the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, said the company would likely pack up and move in solidarity with its female workforce. Netflix, a massive spender on original production, was the first to blink and said it would “rethink its investment” in the state should the Georgia heartbeat become law. Kristen Wiig and Lionsgate yanked the “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” shoot weeks before cameras were set to roll. The Georgia law was later struck down in higher courts. A similar corporate backlash took place when Georgia enacted voting rights laws that critics said were designed to suppress turnout among voters of color. In response, Major League Baseball relocated the All-Star Game from the state and corporations like Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines decried the move.
McGill Johnson said she hopes that Hollywood companies respond to Texas’ move with threats to pull business, while also urging celebrities and storytellers to draw attention to the effect the rules will have on women.
“Hollywood has the bully pulpit of culture and it has the economic pulpit impact of pulling out of the state and calling on companies that do business in the state to go elsewhere,” she said. “Boycotting has a long and important history in achieving and sustaining rights for people. The one other important lever that Hollywood has is storytelling and its ability to dramatize the impact on people who can’t access abortions. I’m 49 years old. I’m younger than Roe. I’ve never not known a time when I wasn’t free to make decisions about my own body. It’s important to tell rising generations the stories of what things were like pre-Roe and what things are like when laws like this go into place.”
Texas is not nearly as vital to film and television production, though some notable projects are set to shoot there. This includes “Love and Death,” an HBO Max Original series starring Elizabeth Olsen, and two untitled projects shooting across multiple Texas cities from Walt Disney and NBCUniversal. An HBO Max spokesperson declined to comment on the matter. Representatives for Walt Disney, NBCUniversal and Olsen did not respond to Variety’s request for comment.
In addition to film shoots, the “blue pocket” of Austin, Texas represents a significant cultural power source. It is the site of the annual SXSW conference*, which gathers leaders in music, tech, film and politics. It is the longtime home of city devotees Matthew McConaughey, Richard Linklater, and Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League. It also has major hubs for tech players such as Google and Dell, which may feel pressure to boycott the state over the new laws.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has pushed back at suggestions that the new restrictions will lead to an exodus of economic activity in the Lone Star state. He argued that the state’s lack of regulations and low taxes would continue to draw businesses.
“People vote with their feet and this is not slowing down businesses coming to the state of Texas at all,” he said during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” on Thursday. “In fact, it is accelerating the process of businesses coming to Texas particularly…Interestingly, they are leaving the very liberal state of California and I gotta tell you, whether it be Elon Musk who I talk to frequently, Elon had to get out of California because in part of the social policies in California and Elon consistently tells me that he likes the social policies in the state of Texas.”
It’s unclear if Hollywood studios will operate in solidarity, as disagreements are beginning to emerge about the best way for the liberal industry to contend with the red states where it produces much of its content — states where political values may diverge, but the allure of tax incentives often trumps ideological divides. Some industry players believe that instead of steering clear of states like Texas, insiders need to get more involved in the political process.
“The last thing we should do is starve Texas,” said one top executive who advises major studios and tech giants. “We need to double down on voting rights, make sure we’re pouring money into these states and electing the right officials. This is a desperate race for democracy and Hollywood should not be petty here.”
*Variety’s parent company Penske Media has a 50% stake in the festival.