Film & TV

Netflix Will Have to Pay to Punish Georgia

Billboard for the Netflix series Luke Cage on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)
Few states have such a juicy combination of big subsidies, filmmaking infrastructure, and tiny costs.

Hollywood has threatened boycotts in Georgia before. When the producers of Gone with the Wind wished to hold the premiere in Atlanta, Clark Gable was outraged that black cast members would not be able to attend the event with the white cast owing to the Jim Crow laws then in effect. Did Gable, or anyone else, actually boycott the event, though? Nah. When Hollywood’s moral values collide with dollar values, it’s usually no contest. Neither Gable nor anyone else important connected with Gone with the Wind was willing to go to bat against racism if they felt it might cost them.

Which was why it was so amusing when George Clooney, in accepting his 2006 Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Syriana, cited the treatment of Gone with the Wind costar Hattie McDaniel as an example of Hollywood’s courageous liberalism. He bragged that Hollywood was “a little bit out of touch” in that “We’re the ones who talked about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn’t really popular. And we, you know, we bring up subjects, we are the ones — this Academy, this group of people gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters.” Clooney either didn’t know or didn’t care that McDaniel was not allowed to sit in the main part of the room with the white Academy Award nominees. Even at the Oscar ceremony itself, then held in a hotel ballroom, blacks were effectively forced to sit in the back of the theater.

Will Hollywood finally deliver on its threat to boycott Georgia over politics? Netflix has become the first major studio to threaten to leave the state over the new abortion restrictions. Yet Netflix is in Georgia in the first place only because of the state’s ruthless capitalism: Tax breaks for big business and right-to-work policies. My favorite smash-’em-up of Hollywood grandstanding and economics is The Campaign. Remember that? It was Will Ferrell’s 2012 Koch Brothers movie. In the film, the nefarious capitalists the Motch Brothers are harnessing the full power of NAFTA to outsource American jobs. The sole funny element of the movie is that it decried the Motch Brothers while being made in union-unfriendly, tax-refunding Louisiana. Ferrell and his lefty buddies (Zach Galifianakis, Adam McKay, etc.) outsourced the movie from California and its crushing cost structure. I suppose they could have demanded the movie be made in L.A. instead of LA, but then it might not have gotten made. (As it is, it appears to have lost money.) I mean, whoa, you know we’re liberal, but let’s not do anything crazy like cost ourselves a paycheck.

This is why I’m skeptical that Netflix is going to boycott Georgia. Netflix is an unusual kind of Hollywood studio in that it is spending money at a rate that would make Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blanch, but Netflix is also having one of those “Objects in Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear” moments from a Jurassic Park movie. On the left: an AT&T-Rex (the new AT&T streaming service starring its WarnerMedia properties, set to launch in coming months). On the right, a rampaging Mousiraptor (Disney’s new streaming service, debuting in November and fueled by all of the Marvel and Pixar movies it will soon chomp off of Netflix). Overhead: the Huludactyl (Hulu, which Disney now owns, along with the Fox film studio, is preparing to dominate Netflix in programming for grownups). The last thing Netflix needs is to be creating problems for itself by pulling out of Georgia and forsaking all those yummy tax subsidies.

Netflix could signal to Lefty Hollywood, otherwise known as Hollywood, that it is onboard with the talent’s progressive agenda by backing out of Georgia. That would make the company heroes to the creative community. But what is that worth to Netflix? I can’t see too many George Clooneys making their filmmaking decisions based solely on love for Netflix’s politics. So far the A-list Hollywood talent, such as Ron Howard and Jordan Peele, have said they will continue to work in Georgia but promised to donate to activist groups fighting the abortion law. Based on a report in Variety, Hollywood isn’t quite as determined as Clooney’s Oscar speech made it sound:

Media companies with deep financial investments in the state have so far remained mum on the matter. Not one major studio would comment on the ongoing issue when approached by Variety, including the film and TV divisions at The Walt Disney Co., WarnerMedia, Sony Pictures Entertainment, NBCUniversal, Viacom, Fox and Amazon Studios.

Other states have tax subsidies (notably, New York) but few have such a juicy combination of big subsidies, filmmaking infrastructure, and tiny costs. (Hollywood’s main union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, enforces its high basic rates in New York and Los Angeles, but its members in Georgia and other areas are covered by a cheaper “Area Standards Agreement.”) A TV or film production is a delicate thing. Taking a planned feature out of Georgia might mean adding many millions to the budget. A few million in budget is sometimes the difference between a movie getting made, or not. So pulling a project out of Georgia might mean killing it. You might even saying aborting it in its early gestation. Is Hollywood willing to kill its babies because Georgia doesn’t want to kill its? I doubt it.

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