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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Will the GA GOP Boot the State’s Thriving Film Industry to Keep Voter Suppression Legislation?

Boycotts are always tricky, and if they are well-organized and widely-supported, they are usually powerful. Thus, smarter Georgia Republicans must be very nervous about growing talk of boycotts of Georgia-based corporations and a statewide boycott that guts Georgia’s thriving film industry.

In “Will Hollywood Boycott Georgia Over New Voting Law?,” Bryn Sandberg writes at The Hollywood Reporter:

Georgia is facing calls for a potential boycott from Hollywood, this time over a new controversial voting bill that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed March 25.

The new election law — which ushers in more rigid voters restrictions like ID requirements for absentee voting, limiting the number of ballot drop boxes, and making it illegal to give food and water to voters in line — has drawn widespread criticism from voting rights groups and Democrats. President Biden dubbed it “Jim Crow in the 21st Century,” while Stacey Abrams called it “a reminder of Georgia’s dark past.”

It’s also been denounced by many in Hollywood. Some of those outspoken industry figures have even gone as far as to call for a boycott of the state, a movement that’s waxed and waned over the years as other controversial legislation, largely concerning abortion and LGBTQ rights, has come and gone. The impact of a boycott could be significant, though, as Hollywood regularly shoots TV shows and movies in the state and has helped to grow Georgia’s robust film business into the nearly $10 billion industry it is.

Among those in Hollywood most vocal about a boycott is Ford v Ferrari director James Mangold, who tweeted that he would not direct a future film in Georgia due to the new law. (Ford v Ferrarishot some in Georgia.) “Georgia has been using cash to steal movie jobs from other states that allow people to vote. I don’t want to play there,” wrote the director, who is making the upcoming Indiana Jones movie. “The state will be irredeemably red with these new ‘laws.'”

Star Wars actor Mark Hamill seconded Mangold’s call to action, posting a tweet with the hashtag #NoMoreFilminginGeorgia. Production designer François Audouy, who has worked with Mangold on multiple films, also said that he would not design a film in Georgia in the wake of the new voter restrictions.

But while calls for a boycott grow, so do pleas to halt the movement before it gains more steam. “Please stop the #BoycottGeorgia talk,” Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter Bernice King wrote on Twitter. “That would hurt middle class workers and people grappling with poverty. And it would increase the harm of both racism and classism.”

Georgia-based actor Steve Coulter, who has appeared in shows like P Valley and Yellowstone, asked Mangold to think twice before boycotting: “James … we here in GA fought like hell the last 4 years to turn it blue. We gave you two Dem Senators. Your boycott only hurts us, the thousands of rank & film actors & crew. Think before you cancel. Please. We’ve worked too hard.”

One on-the-ground Georgia production insider says they feel like the calls for a boycott are much weaker this time around. “It seems like a few years ago, it was a lot louder and the ball got rolling a bit quicker,” says the source, who acknowledges that cast and crew being out of work for so long amid the pandemic might be part of the reason other stars and studios aren’t immediately jumping on the boycott train.

This individual also notes that the local film community is more prepared to fight back against those who urge pulling business, given this isn’t their first rodeo. “There are better and more effective ways of protesting,” the source adds. Others are quick to point out that with Tyler Perry Studios, Georgia is home to the only Black-owned studio in the country.

Abrams, for her part, has condemned the legislation as a “voter suppression bill targeted at Black and brown voters,” but has yet to weigh in on the calls for a boycott. In the past, however, she has advised against them. Amid anti-abortion legislation in 2019, she pennedLos Angeles Times op-ed that said that while she respected the calls for a boycott of the state, “I do not believe it is the most effective, strategic choice for change,” she wrote at the time.

Newly elected Sen. Raphael Warnock harshly criticized the new voter restrictions — but when asked by CNN’s Dana Bash if boycotts should be on the table, he didn’t offer a clear yes or no. “I think we all have to use our voices,” he said, vaguely. “We will see how all of that plays out, but I am focused on what we can do in the United States Senate.”

Calls for a boycott are extending beyond Hollywood, too. Civil rights groups have urged for the Masters Tournament and Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game to find new locations amid the bill’s passage. According to The Boston Globe, the head of Major League Baseball’s players’ union said he’d “look forward” to discussing potentially moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta. Georgia-based corporations Coca-Cola and Delta have also come under fire for their stances on the bill.

A similar movement grew in Hollywood two years ago in response to Georgia’s “heartbeat” abortion bill, which a federal judge ruled was unconstitutional last year, and a year before that over anti-LGBTQ adoption legislation, which former Governor Nathan Deal vetoed.

Balance the concerns of Georgia’s moderate leaders about a boycott against impressive boycott successes, and it’s a tough call. It would be a shame if thousands of jobs were lost in the state because of a boycott as the price to re-elect Sen. Warnock in 2022, and an even worse shame if he lost anyway. But it would also be a shame if Dems lost Warnock’s seat becase they were too timid to leverage the power of a boycott.

With respect to boycotts in general, there is always an argument to allow legal strategies to be exhausted before going all in on boycotts. The danger is that legal strategy can eat up the clock and have activists scrambling in the final months leading up to the 2022 elections. The reluctance of some Georgia public figures may be a kind of ‘good cop’ response to the ‘bad cop’ activists call for boycotts. But the net effect of increasing both pro and con boycott talk will likely escalate unfavorable publicity for the Georgia’s Republican Party’s political brinksmanship, which is now flirting with economic disaster for the state.

There is also the possibility that the enactment of federal voting rights legislation, including H.R.1, The “For the People Act’ and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act will undo the damage done by the rash of voter suppression laws in the states, including Georgia. But these reforms will depend on Democrats successfuly implementing carefully-constructed filibuster reform, which is also a tricky project.

All available strategic options for progressives in fighting Georgia’s voter suppression laws carry risk. But there is no question that Georgia’s leadership in the film industry gives the state a uniquely powerful card to play if there is a boycott. The hope is that just the threat of a boycott will encourage the state’s Republican leaders to repeal the recently-passed voter suppression legislation, or at least pass a more moderate bill that overrides the new legislation’s worst features.

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