Hollywood Producer Seeks to Raise Funds to Battle Anti-Abortion Laws

LOS ANGELES — One of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters, the producer and investor Peter Chernin, has started a campaign to raise millions of dollars to help fund a legal attack on new anti-abortion laws in Georgia and other states.

Mr. Chernin, who stepped down as Rupert Murdoch’s longtime top lieutenant in 2009 to start his own entertainment company, the Chernin Group, was one of the first Hollywood moguls to publicly criticize Georgia’s so-called fetal heartbeat legislation.

He has stepped up his effort by pressing an array of movie and television titans to contribute as well, according to three people briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private requests.

“I am launching a campaign to contribute to the $15 million that is needed to fund the A.C.L.U.’s legal efforts to battle the national anti-abortion effort,” Mr. Chernin wrote in an email last week, referring to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting the abortion laws. The email was forwarded to The New York Times by a person who received it. Recipients included senior executives at all of the major movie studios, as well as entertainment power players like Jeff Bezos, Ari Emanuel, Ted Sarandos, Tim Cook and Shonda Rhimes.

Mr. Chernin gave July 1 as a deadline for donating.

“We have a moral responsibility to act immediately,” he wrote, adding that his company and family foundation had already given a combined $1 million. Mr. Chernin, 68, noted that he was orchestrating the fund-raising effort in collaboration with Anthony D. Romero, the A.C.L.U.’s executive director.

Melissa Zukerman, a spokeswoman for Chernin Entertainment, confirmed the authenticity of the email, which has not been previously reported. She said that Mr. Chernin was not available for an interview.

Georgia has become a crucial hub for production because of hefty tax breaks, but the state’s new anti-abortion legislation — signed into law on May 7 and taking effect in January — has put Hollywood’s liberal politics on a collision course with its economic interests. Some actors have called for a boycott. But moving production to other locales would be costly and would penalize Georgia workers — many of them women — who depend on Hollywood for their livelihoods. Studio executives have privately worried that taking a stand against the issue might hurt ticket sales in huge swaths of the country, where many oppose abortion.

Other Republican-controlled state legislatures in the Midwest and South have passed similar measures in an effort to overturn Roe v. Wade, the case that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. But the entertainment industry has a particularly cozy relationship with Georgia, which offers a 20 percent state tax credit (and another 10 percent if the Georgia Film Commission’s logo is shown in credits) to film and television production companies.

Sites across Atlanta have stood in for California, New York, South Korea and Nigeria in the Marvel films “Black Panther,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Captain America: Civil War.” The hit AMC series “The Walking Dead” shoots in Georgia, as does the Netflix drama “Ozark.” All told, about 92,000 jobs are now connected to film and television production in the state.

Until last week, there was near total silence from companies like Netflix, Disney and WarnerMedia. Then Mr. Sarandos, the chief content officer at Netflix, said that his company would “rethink our entire investment in Georgia” if the law went into effect. Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, said in an interview with Reuters that it would be “very difficult” to continue to make movies in Georgia if the law became a reality.

WarnerMedia said in a statement on Thursday, “We will watch the situation closely and if the new law holds we will reconsider Georgia as the home to any new productions.”

Mr. Chernin and his company’s movie chief, Jenno Topping, were outspoken from the outset, saying in a statement in mid-May that Georgia had “declared war on the rights and freedom of its women.”

Chernin Entertainment, which has produced films like “The Greatest Showman,” “Hidden Figures” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” has two major projects set for production in Georgia. One is a trilogy of films based on the “Fear Street” novels by R.L. Stein. The other is a television drama called “P-Valley” that is headed to Starz. In his fund-raising email, Mr. Chernin elaborated on his decision, announced on May 15, to continue with those plans rather than look for other shooting locales.

“Firing workers, most of whom oppose this legislation, does not seem like a just response,” Mr. Chernin wrote, adding, “Taking action against only Georgia felt like a highly narrow and targeted response to a national battle. Abandoning and isolating parts of the country that we don’t agree with strikes me as a dangerous response.”

Other Hollywood figures, including Ron Howard, J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele, have said they will keep production going in Georgia while donating to organizations like the A.C.L.U. and Fair Fight Georgia. Fair Fight Georgia is led by Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who became a national liberal icon after nearly defeating Gov. Brian Kemp in the most recent election.

Mr. Romero, the A.C.L.U.’s executive director, did not respond to a query.

Andrea Young, executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Georgia, said her organization planned to file a challenge in federal court before the end of summer, and that the complexity of the legislation accounted for the delay.

“The goal is to do that as soon as possible,” Ms. Young said. “We’re very committed to making sure that this does not go into effect.”

She would not comment on how donations to the office have been affected since the law passed, saying only that donors were “concerned” and “urgently responded.”

Source: Read Full Article