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Hollywood weighs in on Georgia religious freedom bill

Annie Baxter Mar 24, 2016
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Georgia governor Nathan Deal. Davis Turner/Getty Images

Hollywood weighs in on Georgia religious freedom bill

Annie Baxter Mar 24, 2016
Georgia governor Nathan Deal. Davis Turner/Getty Images
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A controversial bill in Georgia, which critics charge would legalize discrimination against gays, is attracting opposition from Hollywood. Television and movie production brings billions of dollars to Georgia.

Lionsgate,  the Weinstein Company, Disney and Viacom are among the big media companies opposing the bill, called the Free Exercise Protection Act, which Republican Governor Nathan Deal must veto or sign by May 3.

“Viacom is proud to champion diversity and acceptance, which are core values of our company,” a Viacom spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We have enjoyed doing business in Georgia for many years and we urge Governor Deal to continue to resist and reject the patently discriminatory laws being proposed.”

The measure would allow faith-based groups to decline to hire or give services to people when doing so violates the organizations’ religious beliefs.

“This bill will have a disproportionate impact on the LGBT community,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign.

Warbelow said, among other things, the bill would allow homeless shelters, adoption agencies and drug counseling programs not to serve gay people.

Her group is soliciting help from business interests, including Hollywood, to speak out against the bill.

“Right now I think we have something like 42 shows in production,” said Matthew H. Bernstein, film professor at Emory University in Atlanta. A big attraction: tax credits of up to 30 percent for productions.

Recent projects filmed in Georgia include “Captain America: Civil War” from Disney’s Marvel Unit. Disney has threatened to boycott Georgia for future projects. 

“This would have a considerable impact on the state’s economy because tax incentives have been so dramatic in building things up,” Bernstein said. 

Jonathan Taplin, a media expert at the University of Southern California, said Hollywood can easily film elsewhere. He said the Georgia landscape does not matter in most productions filmed there. 

“You’re not making ‘Gone with the Wind,’” he said.

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