North Carolina’s Anti-LGBT Law Could Cripple Its Film Industry

It's not just Fox and A+E who want to close up shop in N.C. after the passing of its anti-LGBT bill

Apr 01, 2016 at 3:45 PM ET

Opposition is building up against North Carolina’s House Bill 2, a recently-passed law that removes anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people. A number of local companies and government agencies have been calling for it to be struck down, and now an influx of film and TV studios are joining the fray.

HB2 requires transgender individuals to use the restroom of the gender they were born with, not the one they identify as. It also removes municipal anti-discrimination ordinances across the state, and prevents individual cities from passing new protections. It has drawn ire from corporations and local governments in places like New York City, Boston, and Seattle, where workers have been prohibited from traveling to North Carolina for non-essential business. A group of CEOs from more than 80 corporations including Google, Facebook, and Apple have written a letter urging Governor Pat McCrory to strike down the bill. Attorney General Roy Cooper, who will run against McCrory for his seat in November, called HB2 a “national embarrassment.”

But is any of this outcry having an effect? The film and TV projects currently in production in North Carolina are only a small part of the picture. But put that into the context of all the major companies that have a foothold in North Carolina (Apple, Google, and Facebook all have huge data centers in the state), and it becomes less clear whether or not the governor cares about the economic effects of the law. Or whether or not he thinks the threats are anything more than threats alone.

Vocativ reached out to the companies handling each production currently underway in North Carolina to see where they stand. A+E just began production on Six, a series about SEAL Team Six, which took out Osama Bin Laden. An A+E rep told Vocativ:

Production on SIX is already underway, however we will not consider North Carolina for any new productions.

ABC and Lionsgate are also shooting a three-hour remake of Dirty Dancing in North Carolina. Lionsgate responded similarly, saying that they’ll continue on with the current production but if the law stands, the future isn’t so certain:

The legislation hastily enacted by the State of North Carolina today is deplorable and discriminatory, and it runs counter to everything we stand for. Our Dirty Dancing 3-hour filmed musical event, which celebrates the principles of inclusiveness, diversity and tolerance, will go forward given our obligation to the hundreds of people in the state employed by the production.  However, we will be hard pressed to continue our relationship with North Carolina if this regressive law remains on the books.

Just this Tuesday, Fox began work on Shots Fired, a drama that will deal with police-involved shootings in the U.S. Fox Searchlight, another division of Fox, is currently filming the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri starring Frances McDormand in the state. Their parent company, 21st Century Fox, said pretty much the same deal as the others. North Carolina is on thin ice. 21st Century Fox told Vocativ in a statement:

On behalf of our creative partners and colleagues who made commitments to shoot in North Carolina prior to this bill being signed, we join the growing coalition of businesses that hope to see this act repealed.  In addition, we will reconsider future filming commitments in North Carolina if the Act is not repealed.

TNT, whose Good Behavior just started production, had a similar stance. A Turner rep told Vocativ:

In the case of North Carolina, Turner is currently in mid-production of one show, which it will complete. Turner will, however, re-evaluate doing further business in North Carolina.

Time Warner, which owns Turner, added this:

Time Warner is committed to an inclusive work environment.  In our workplaces, we forbid discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or mental disability, marital status and other legally protected classifications.   Consistent with that approach, as an employer, we believe that all our employees should enjoy equal rights, and thus we oppose legislation that promotes invidious discrimination. 

We’ve also reached out to Focus Features, but have yet to receive a response. Love It Or List It has filmed episodes in Raleigh, but HGTV has not responded to Vocativ’s questions about the status of that production, either. An independent film from writer and director Angus MacLachlan called Abundant Acreage Available is currently in progress in North Carolina. MachLachlan is from North Carolina, went to school in North Carolina, and his 2005 film Junebug was filmed in North Carolina, too. Neither MacLachlan nor Abundant Productions, the independent outfit behind the movie, have returned Vocativ’s request for comment.

Vocativ also reached out to a number of parties who’ve recently wrapped in North Carolina. Jody Hill just finished filming Legacy Of A Whitetail Deer Hunter starring Danny McBride. He and McBride are friends and frequent collaborators who also filmed the HBO series Eastbound And Down in the Tar Heel state. Hill’s representatives did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did PBS, which films A Chef’s Life there, or National Geographic, whose Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks is set there too.

It’s uncertain whether the cries of the film and television industry will be heard in North Carolina. In Georgia, a similar story had a different outcome. The state had a bill on the docket that would have allowed religious officials to refuse to perform same-sex weddings, faith-based refusal of services to LGBT people, and for religious organizations to deny employment of gay people too. The governor vetoed that bill. But not after Disney, Netflix, and Marvel threatened total boycotts of Georgia if it had passed.

Logic would assume the same thing would work in North Carolina. But the film industry in North Carolina is much different than the film industry in the Peach State. A 2014 study by Film LA ranked Georgia as the fifth-largest film production market. North Carolina, on the other hand is tenth. Georgia has some of the best tax incentives for filming, and is home to big name productions such as The Walking Dead, Magic Mike, and The Hunger Games franchise. Tyler Perry’s movie making factory is based in Georgia. Meanwhile, in North Carolina, Governor McCrory let key tax credits for filming expire in 2014. So it’s pretty clear that the state’s film industry is not exactly his first priority.

The opposition to HB2 is growing, but letters and statements are just words for now. A+E aside, every company that says it will “re-evaluate” its status in North Carolina in the future has stopped short of actually pulling its business from the state. Re-evaluating is one thing, but actually acting is another.