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Disney and Marvel fire warning shot as Georgia’s culture war spreads to Hollywood

Religious freedom proposals are being weighed in nearly a dozen states after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post, Photo: David Goldman/The Washington Post)

Another industry is warning Georgia’s governor not to sign a religious-liberty bill into law — the latest to suggest that the state risks losing business over the measure.

Actors, writers, producers, directors, movie studios and whole entertainment companies have weighed in on the debate, many calling the bill discriminatory and some threatening to sever ties with Georgia if it’s passed.

The latest threat comes from a group of 34 individuals in the movie business, including celebrities Kristin Chenoweth, Lee Daniels, Anne Hathaway, Seth MacFarlane, Julianne Moore, Rob Reiner and Marisa Tomei.

In a Thursday letter, they warn Gov. Nathan Deal (R) that they “plan to take our business elsewhere” should he sign the bill, which passed the legislature last week. The Walt Disney Co. and its subsidiary movie studio, Marvel, said the same in a statement Wednesday.

‘We have deep concerns’: Hollywood stars threaten Georgia over religious liberty bill

“Disney and Marvel are inclusive companies, and although we have had great experiences filming in Georgia, we will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law,” the Disney Co. said in a statement.

The bill protects religious leaders from being forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies and individuals from being forced to attend such events. It also allows faith-based organizations to deny use of their facilities for events they find “objectionable” and exempts them from having to hire or retain any employee whose religious beliefs or practices differ from those of the organization.

Opponents say it allows anti-gay discrimination. Proponents argue the opposite: It would be discriminatory not to pass such protections, they say.

“America is in a time of transition. The court has redefined marriage, and beliefs about human sexuality are changing,” writes Ryan T. Anderson, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, who along with other conservatives has described the corporate backlash as “cultural cronyism.” “During this time, it is critical to protect the right to disagree and the civil liberties of those who speak and act in accord with what Americans had always believed about marriage—that it is the union of husband and wife.”

Gay rights group wants Hollywood to walk if Georgia enacts religious-liberty bill

Disney and the group of actors, writers, directors and producers were joined on Thursday by Time Warner, the corporate parent of Atlanta-based CNN, a number of cable networks, Warner Bros. and HBO.

“We strongly oppose the discriminatory language and intent of Georgia’s pending religious-liberty bill, which clearly violates the values and principles of inclusion and the ability of all people to live and work free from discrimination,” Time Warner said in a statement, which concluded with a call for Deal to veto the measure.

The statements come just days after Chad Griffin, head of the gay rights organization Human Rights Campaign, urged Hollywood to issue such an economic threat.

“Join us as we urge TV and film studios, directors and producers, to commit to locating no further productions in the state of Georgia if this bill becomes law,” Griffin said in a speech at the group’s Los Angeles Gala dinner.

Chad Griffin, head of the gay rights organization Human Rights Campaign, urged Hollywood to abandon productions in the state of Georgia if the Free Exercise Protection Act, which some people say is anti-gay, becomes a law. (Video: Human Rights Campaign)

The economic impact could be sizable: Georgia has attracted a large share of film industry production, with Atlanta earning the nickname “Hollywood of the South.”

In 2014, it ranked third among states — behind only California and New York — and fifth among states and countries as the primary production location for feature films, according to a 106-movie study by research group FilmL.A.

Georgia reported $1.7 billion in in-state spending on film and television productions in the 2015 fiscal year.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

The state’s production economy got a boost in 2014, when England’s Pinewood Group began operating a large studio facility outside Atlanta. It has attracted a number of high-profile productions, among them “Captain America: Civil War,” which comes out in May.
“Ant-Man” was the first movie to shoot at Pinewood Atlanta Studios, which includes 11 sound stages on 700 acres in Fayetteville. According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the production of “Ant-Man” spent $106 million in the state and employed 3,579 Georgians.
Pinewood Group, based in Iver Heath, England, said in a statement that the company “actively promotes equal opportunities and diversity in the workplace.” Pinewood did not respond to a question about whether it would call on Deal to veto the bill.

“Ant-Man” and “Captain America: Civil War” are Marvel productions.

The nation's largest LGBT rights organization has called on Hollywood to threaten to cease work in the state if the bill becomes law. (Video: WFXG-TV Augusta, FOX 54)

The Motion Picture Association of America, an industry trade group, called the bill “discriminatory” and said it did not expect it to be signed into law.

“We are confident that Governor Deal will not allow a discriminatory bill to become law in Georgia,” Vans Stevenson, MPAA senior vice president of state government affairs, said in a statement.

AMC Networks, whose “Walking Dead” is mostly filmed in Georgia, called on Deal to veto the bill, according to the Times.

“As a company, AMC Networks believes that discrimination of any kind is reprehensible,” the company said in a statement provided to the Times. “We applaud Governor Deal’s leadership in resisting a previous version of this divisive legislation and urge him to reject the current version as well.”

Hollywood is far from the only industry to push back against the measure.

Last week, the NFL suggested the bill’s passage could affect Atlanta’s chances of hosting the Super Bowl. Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons football team, said the bill “undermines” his and the state’s diverse and inclusive principles and “would have long-lasting negative impacts.” The Atlanta Braves baseball team said in a statement that the bill would be “detrimental to our community and bad for Georgia.”

NFL warns that ‘religious liberty’ bill could cost Atlanta a Super Bowl

At least 20 Fortune 500 companies — including Delta Air Lines, Google, Home Depot, IBM, Marriott, Microsoft, Nordstrom, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, UPS and Verizon — belong to a coalition urging Deal to veto the measure. The coalition has several hundred corporate members in all.

Leaders of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board led the effort to pass the measure for the past several years, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The group has described the bill as a necessary religious freedom protection.

CEOs oppose Ga. push to let faith-based groups refuse certain services

“All Georgia citizens, organizations and businesses need protection from adverse legislation that would infringe upon their religious beliefs regarding marriage, defined in the Bible as the union of one man and one woman,” J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said in a statement last month, urging passage of an earlier version of the measure. “It is wrong to accuse persons of discrimination who live and conduct their businesses according to their deeply held religious beliefs.”

Deal had vowed to veto any measure that legalized discrimination, but said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the compromise that led to the bill’s passage last week, according to local reports.

“I have heard from both sides, and I’m sure I’ll continue to hear from both sides,” he said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I will take their opinions into consideration, and I’ll do what I’m required to do, which is to make the difficult decision on a very difficult subject.”

Deal plans to make his decision next month, according to the paper.

This post was updated at 9:31 a.m.