Hollywood Values Rule
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed the latest state "religious freedom" bill into law on Tuesday, essentially enabling Mississippians to refuse service to gays and lesbians provided they justify their personal disdain on religious grounds. If the state manages to avoid the fates of Georgia and North Carolina, it will be a testament to how distant Mississippi is from "Hollywood values" -- and corporate values.
Georgia discovered it had much to lose from embracing a similar law. On March 24, the influential conservative blogger Erick Erickson called on Georgia's Republican Governor Nathan Deal to "side with Georgia values and not Hollywood values" by signing a "religious liberty" bill that Georgia legislators had passed.
That same day, the names of Hollywood stars and potentates including Anne Hathaway and Julianne Moore appeared on a petition opposing the legislation as discriminatory against gay people. It was organized by the nation's largest and best-funded LGBT-rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign. Only days before, the group's president, Chad Griffin, had spoken against the bill at HRC's gala in Los Angeles.
As Variety reported:
Noting the presence of many figures from entertainment at the HRC event, Griffin said, "You have the influence and the opportunity to not only defeat this bill, but to send a message that there are consequences to passing dangerous and hateful laws like this. And so tonight, we’re asking you to 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."
The list of companies expressing misgivings about the law included 21st Century Fox, AMC, Marvel Entertainment, NBC Universal Time Warner, Viacom and Walt Disney, all of whom work in Georgia. The Weinstein Company vowed to move its planned biopic on Richard Pryor from Georgia to another state if the law was signed.
According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the film industry's lobby in Washington, Georgia is one of the top locations for television and film production, employing more than 24,000 people in the industry, with a multiplier effect of 79,000 jobs and $4 billion in state wages. In the glorious lingo of Variety, Marvel alone is responsible for two back-to-back "mega-budget tentpole pictures" in the state, including Marvel’s "Guardians of the Galaxy 2," currently shooting at Atlanta's Pinewood Studios.
A senior vice president at the MPAA issued a statement saying, "We are confident that Governor Deal will not allow a discriminatory bill to become law in Georgia."
To the desperate governor and his anxious state, Dirty Hollywood, with its itchy finger on the trigger of a multi-billion-dollar, highly mobile industry, posed just one question: "Do you feel lucky, Punk?"
Deal vetoed the bill last week.
For decades, social conservatives have pitted their brand of "family values" against "Hollywood values" and called for resistance to the stream of icky television, movies, videos and music emanating from Southern California.
According to a 2014 report by California's Legislative Analyst's Office, the U.S. motion picture industry, at around $120 billion, is larger than automotive repair and maintenance ($112 billion) or natural gas distribution ($82 billion). And at least half of its benefits now flow to destinations beyond Los Angeles.
With production spreading to new locations, Hollywood values have begun to look more like Georgia values and Louisiana values and New Mexico values. According to the MPAA, the industry includes more than 100,000 businesses in 50 states generating $100 billion in wages.
It's no wonder that states compete to attract productions. A 2013 MPAA press release claimed that Marvel’s "Iron Man 3" generated $179.8 million in spending and over 2,000 jobs in North Carolina, where it was filmed. Wilmington, North Carolina has been a major production hub for years. The Showtime hit "Homeland" has shot in Charlotte.
All of which is surely causing North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory a bout of very serious discomfort. McCrory last month foolishly signed a bill regulating the use of bathrooms by transgender people -- a pressing need for which was not readily apparent. Now the governor is getting a lesson in Hollywood values.
As it happens, those values pervade the economy. PepsiCo says it wants the North Carolina law repealed. Wells Fargo last week illuminated its 54-story Charlotte office tower in the pink hue of the transgender pride flag. Dozens of other businesses have expressed unhappiness.
PayPal just announced that it won't be building a planned operations center in Charlotte after all, and will move those 400 jobs elsewhere. The transgender law "violates the values and principles that are at the core of PayPal’s mission and culture," Chief Executive Officer Dan Schulman said in a statement.
PayPal, it turns out, has Hollywood values. Unless North Carolina wants to end up like lowly Mississippi, political leaders there will discover an affinity for Hollywood values, too.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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