A Hollywood insider raised in Columbus said Georgia could be putting the state’s lucrative film and production business in jeopardy if an adoption bill in front of the General Assembly becomes law.
The bill, which passed the Senate on Friday and has moved to the House, would allow religious adoption agencies in Georgia to refuse to work with same-sex couples.
That is a bad idea, said Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List, an internet startup that, among other things, publishes an annual list of film industry executives’ favorite scripts that have not been made into feature films.
“I and many others don’t particularly want to bring our work and our business to a state where members of the LGBTQ community are second-class citizens,” Leonard said. “It’s a particularly risky move because it puts the state on the wrong side of history and real American values.”
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Using tax incentives and a heavy recruiting effort, Georgia has pushed its way into the film industry in a major way over the last decade. In July, Gov. Nathan Deal announced that feature film and television productions in Georgia from July 2016 to June 2017 generated an economic impact of $9.5 billion. The 320 feature film and television productions shot in Georgia represent $2.7 billion in direct spending in the state, Deal said at the time.
There are currently 40 films and television shows being filmed in Georgia this month. Regular series filmed here include “The Walking Dead” and “Stranger Things.”
Movies such as “Baby Driver” and most of the Marvel films, including “Captain America” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” were filmed in the state. “Need for Speed,” starring “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Hall was filmed partly in Columbus and Phenix City five years ago.
Leonard is a 1996 graduate of Brookstone School who has made a name for himself in Los Angeles. In addition to his work with The Black List, Leonard is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He has recently written a piece for Vanity Fair about Hollywood and politics.
Leonard posted the following Tweet Sunday: “Hollywood may need to revisit its willingness to shoot in my home state.” The Tweet linked to a LBGTQNation.com article about the Georgia Senate’s passage of the adoption bill on Friday. By noon Monday, he had more than 800 likes and 230 retweets.
The bill passed in the Senate along party lines, with Columbus Republican Josh McKoon voting for it and Columbus Democrat Ed Harbison voting against it.
The core of the bill would give legal protection to faith-based adoption agencies that decline to place a child with people whose lifestyle they do not agree with, including single parents, unwed couples and LGBT couples, according to the Associated Press.
McKoon is not sure what the House will do with the bill, but he does not believe if it is passed it will hurt the state’s film industry.
“Texas and Michigan have passed similar legislation and I am aware of no loss of any business as a result,” McKoon said. “Businesses make decisions based on the available workforce and infrastructure, tax and regulatory policy, and the value of economic development incentives offered. I have seen no evidence that any measure that doesn’t impact those areas has a negative impact on business.”
Not all Republicans on the House side are falling in line.
One Columbus Republican, Rep. John Pezold, has said he will speak out against Senate Bill 375 if the bill in its current form makes it to the House floor for a vote, but he does not believe it will come to that.
“I have talked to a few people in the know and I don’t think it will come up for a vote,” Pezold said Monday morning.
Pezold, who will not seek re-election this year after serving six years, said his opposition is based on his long-held belief in limited government. Some of the faith-based adoption agencies take tax money, Pezold said.
“You can not accept tax money and not serve everybody, regardless of your religious beliefs,” Pezold said.
Leonard and Pezold knew each other growing up in Columbus. The two had a Facebook conversation on the legislation over the weekend.
“I’m incredibly proud of John’s willingness to speak out in favor of the rights of all Americans,” Leonard said. “The Republican party would be better off with more leaders like he. It’s a shame he won’t be running again after he serves out this term.”