[UPDATE: Georgia's governor has decided to veto the proposed bill. Read on for Disney's response.]
Disney and Marvel Studios' upcoming blockbuster Captain America: Civil War features the company's mega-popular superheroes breaking-up friendships and choosing side over a controversial new law - one that Iron Man insists is necessary for world security but The Captain himself feels is a violation of he and his fellow superhero's civil rights. But now, in a surprising case of life (potentially) imitating art, the superhero studio has taken a stand against a real-life controversial law - one that could endanger the previously-lucrative partnership the studio enjoys with the state of Georgia, specifically the Pinewood Studios installation (where films like Ant-Man and Civil War itself were shot).
At issue? Georgia's state legislature has passed a new bill that opponents say legalizes discrimination against gay citizens - and Disney/Marvel has indicated that they plan to take their business to another state if the Governor signs it into law.
The bill in question, House Bill 757, is one of several similar "religious liberty" laws that have been proposed (and fiercely challenged) in multiple U.S. territories. Pushed largely in the wake of the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage for all fifty states, the purported purpose of the laws are typically to reify that churches that do not recognize the validity of gay marriage are not required to perform such a ceremony. However, many civil rights organizations have challenged the laws on allegations that they define religious-institutions too broadly, and could conceivably be used by individuals and businesses to refuse service and/or employment to gay citizens despite existing anti-discrimination laws.
While there's little reason to doubt that Disney and Marvel (who are joined in their threat to effectively boycott the state by Microsoft, Google, Coca-Cola, Home Depot and others) are sincere in opposing what they see as unjust discrimination and potential violation of gay citizens' civil rights, there's an extremely practical side to corporate opposition as well: Even if the law were to be favored by a majority of a state's resident citizens, companies of that size and international/global presence tend to have employees and executives whose jobs require them to relocate frequently between different territories - which could cause serious legal friction should (for example) an LGBT employee object to being transferred to a territory with discriminatory anti-gay laws. Given that, it would not be outside the realm of possibility for Disney to conclude that they are better served moving their productions to facilities in a state with more inclusive policies.
In a statement to the press, a Disney spokesperson said:
“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.”
HB 757, which originally limited its language to religious leaders, was rewritten during debate to extend its "protections" allowing for discrimination to employers and service-providers with a "sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction" against gay marriage, thus touching off the moves by Disney/Marvel and other corporations with business dealings in the state and setting off a political showdown not only between proponents and gay-rights activists but also against Georgia's business community. Not only does Marvel pay for use of Pinewood's installation, the local goods and services (food, lodging, entertainment, etc) used by the steady influx of production personnel are a huge boon to the local economy. Locally-influential groups like the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau have suggested the state could lose between $1 billion and $2 billion and more if international powerhouses like Marvel opt to take their business elsewhere.
The announcement by Marvel was greeted with a generally favorable response online and across social media from fans supporting the company's stance. However, if Disney/Marvel were to go through with the boycott it could have widespread effects on the studio's production slate included changes to budgets, shooting schedules and even casting. And while the company would likely earn accolades for taking a principled stand and would almost certainly find a new studio in a more welcoming state rather quickly, everyone involved would almost certainly prefer that it not come to that. The bill still needs to be signed by Georgia's governor, Nathan Deal, to actually become a law. For his part, Deal has thus far indicated that he opposes HB 757 as written and does not intended to sign the current version into law. Said Deal:
“I know that there are a lot of Georgians who feel like this is a necessary step for us to take. I would hope that in the process of these last few days, we can keep in mind the concerns of the faith-based community, which I believe can be protected without setting up the situation where we could be accused of allowing or encouraging discrimination.”
UPDATE: Deal has now decided to veto the proposed bill. Here is the official response from a Disney representative to Polygon:
"We applaud Gov. Deal for making the right decision on this piece of legislation and look forward to continuing our film production in Georgia."
Captain America: Civil War opens in U.S. theaters on May 6th, 2016, followed by Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018;Ant-Man and the Wasp– July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans– July 12, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on May 1, July 10 and November 6, 2020.
Update Source: Polygon