By Chad Darnell for Eldredge ATL
Spoiler Alert: You’re going to be angry at me by the time you’re done reading this. Pissing people off has always been my special skill. Just ask anyone who knows me. But I’m willing to roll the dice on pissing you off because we’re currently at risk of losing a multi-billion dollar industry here in Georgia, my home state.
Strap in: we’re going to talk about HB 481 – the Anti-Abortion Bill in Georgia that is threatening women (and a touch closer to home for me… the film and television community) in our state. And you’re not going to like it.
Many religious conservatives like to selectively pick verses in the Bible to fit their narrative, such as “homosexuality is wrong because Leviticus says so!” (The Bible also condemns round haircuts, shrimp, football (that whole pigskin thing…), tattoos, polyester and fabric blends, and divorce. But we’ll just skip over those, right?
Well, since religious conservatives like to play “Grab a Bible and Grab a Verse” to defend their ideology, I can play that, too. For instance, according to the Bible, a fetus is not a living person with a soul until after drawing its first breath.
Genesis 2:7: God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and it was then that the man became a living being.” Although man was fully formed by God for all intents and purposes, he was not a living being until after taking his first breath.
Job 33:4: “The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
Ezekiel 37:5-6: “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
I will not claim to be a scientist (but I played one on TV), but college biology taught me a fetus becomes “viable” between 21 and 27 weeks of pregnancy and if something goes wrong late in pregnancy and the fetus dies (“still birth”), by law, a death certificate is issued.
In Georgia, HB 481 passed the House 93-73. Of the Yes votes, 80 were cast by men and one by a person of color, making abortion illegal at six weeks. Before the bill, abortion was banned at 20 weeks. Full term was considered 40 weeks.
The new bill is devastating to any woman in need of an abortion, especially those in low-income rural areas and women without an OB-GYN, due to the state shortage. Women who do not have regular menstrual cycles are affected because of the six week period, as are families who have the difficult decision to choose to give birth to a child with a debilitating chromosomal or genetic condition.
Since it passed in March, as an actor/writer/director/producer/casting director working in Georgia, this new law has brought distressing results to my career.
I was living in both Savannah (where I made most of my living in casting) and Atlanta (because it’s home) until May, when I had to move out of Savannah for lack of work. So far, at least three projects decided not to film in Savannah and at least two huge projects have pulled out of Atlanta. Those are just the ones I know of personally — all because of the threat of the bill, which doesn’t even go into effect until next year.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit against Georgia last month and now it will go to court, where it will hopefully be ruled unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, I have actor friends in Hollywood screaming, “Boycott Georgia!” I also have friends like J.J. Abrams (I did the extras casting on all five seasons of “Alias”), donating his profits of shooting in Georgia to the fight. This legislation has strained friendships and even ended some.
A boycott will not work. A boycott takes work away from nearly 100,000 families trying to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. “But money talks.” So does action.
We have to stand up and we have to stay and fight. Not just for the industry, but more importantly, we have to fight for the safety of our women living in Georgia.
“But it’s murder!”
I’m a Methodist and the whole basis of Christianity is “being Christ-like.” Number of times Jesus spoke about homosexuality? Zero. Number of times Jesus spoke about abortion? Zero. Yet, we have a bunch of old white men in bad suits under the Gold Dome in Georgia who have decided to institute laws under the guise of “morality,” based on the Bible. I will be the first to say that I slept through most of Political Science at Georgia State (and barely passed the class), but I do remember the whole “Separation of Church and State” thing.
“That baby could have cured cancer!” (Yeah, and that baby could have been the anti-Christ as well…) I don’t deem to know the mind of God or how he drops souls on Earth. And really, that’s what this is all about, right? Tell me I’m wrong.
Yes, I believe there is a Heaven, but I don’t think any human mind can comprehend what that is. Just like there is no human mind who can comprehend the mind of God. I believe that God is Love and I believe that I have a purpose in this life and I don’t believe that when my heart stops beating, that will be the end of my journey. I may come back as a bird. I may come back as guiding spirit. I may come back as the first Asian Female President.
I may spend eternity floating in a cosmic abyss of collective energy with every other piece of a soul that ever existed and will exist to come. Or I may very well be in a crisp white robe, hiking the Heavenly equivalent of Runyon Canyon (covered in gold, natch) talking screenwriting with Carrie Fisher. The point: We don’t know and we may never know. But we are here to live now. We are here to love now. And love one another, full stop.
If you don’t like abortion, don’t get one. But don’t judge the women and circumstances that are the reasoning behind the act. Especially when your judgements are based on your interpretation of the Bible, which I’m sure is far different my interpretation. When women don’t have access to safe abortions, women end up dead, full stop.
Let’s call this legislation in Georgia (and similar ones in other “red states”) what it is: a way to cause division in our country. It’s about controlling women. It’s about controlling their bodies.
The current president incites hate and that in turn, drives the hate and anger and frustration in those of us who want to live “Christ-like.” Who want to do good. Who want to be the light.
But the unborn babies…
There are approximately 14,000 children “in the system” in Georgia at this moment. Children without families. Children who, for whatever reason, were given up for adoption. Obviously each birth came with an excruciating decision for the mothers involved, but they decided to give birth and place their child up for adoption.
Those children need homes.
Why a woman chooses to have an abortion is none of your business. It’s hers.
I believe this will be ruled unconstitutional. I am grateful to the ACLU of Georgia.
Now that I’ve haphazardly explained all of religion, life and death and the afterlife, a logline of politics in America and made you so angry you can’t wait to spew a hateful comment at me that I won’t read anyway, let me explain why I’m producing the upcoming benefit reading of “Lysistrata.”
There are nearly 100,000 Georgians in the film industry in our state. Actors, designers, crew, administrative support, directors, writers, producers and caterers. I moved to Los Angeles in 2000 because there was no film work in Georgia and I moved back in 2013 because the industry was just starting to boom.
I moved to Savannah four years ago to help grow the market for actors. I went from not being able to cast a single local actor in Savannah in “Magic Mike XXL,” to casting nearly 75% of the local actors on the new Pop series “Florida Girls.” Nearly 60% of the talent in the upcoming Liam Hemsworth film “Killerman” came from Savannah.
Our industry has grown exponentially in six years. Studios are opening up all over the Atlanta area. Academy Award winning films are being made on your street. Our tax credits and incentives help get the productions here and these productions spend billions in our state economy.
In the past six years here in Atlanta, we’ve gone from casting just day player roles with one or two scenes to series regulars. (It still blows my mind that fact is not more celebrated here and that actors don’t appreciate the opportunities here in our region. That’s gigantic.) Actors are buying houses! They are working actors. Unless you were a successful commercial actor or a working model, I can’t remember a single actor making a living only from film work in the 90s and early 2000s in Georgia, back when I was working on films like Robert Altman’s “Gingerbread Man” and the Emmy-winning “Miss Ever’s Boys.”
Thanks to members of the Georgia Production Partnership, the Georgia Film Office and to those incentives and credits approved by our elected officials, we’ve created an incredible industry in Georgia that grows every single year. Money does talk. It’s why productions come here. But they also come here for the talented crews, our locations, and our growing talent.
I started The Lysistrata Project series of benefits for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood in Savannah and Atlanta as a collective of talent, businesses and anyone who wanted to be involved in #StayAndFightGeorgia. I started it to organize and inspire artists, filmmakers and those of us affected by HB 481 to use art as a response.
Dancing Dogs Yoga in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, has offered numerous donation-based classes with the money going to Planned Parenthood.
Local filmmaker Jonothon Mitchell has screened his Georgia-shot film “Pageant Material” for donations for Planned Parenthood. There have been numerous people stepping up to fight, but it’s not enough.
And as Carrie Fisher once said, “take your broken heart, make it into art.”
On Sunday, July 28 at 7 p.m. at Theatrical Outfit in downtown Atlanta, I’m directing a staged reading of the Greek comedy “Lysistrata,” which is about how a group of women set out to end a war. Bruce Greenwood from “The Resident” and Sam Underwood from “Dynasty” will be joined by our own Atlanta local actors Amber Nash, Steve Coulter, Jessica Miesel, Caroline Arapoglou, Joshua Mikel, David Shae, Andrea Frankle, Robert Mello, Libby Blanton, Lindsay Lamb, and Natasha Drena (with more actors to be announced shortly). Thanks to Theatrical Outfit and Atlanta Models and Talent, all of the donations from ticket sales and the auction will go directly to ACLU of Georgia and Planned Parenthood.
For tickets: http://lysistrataatlanta.bpt.me
Film friends, far and wide, I need you to do something. I need you to get involved. You can’t just sit back and wait for this to go to court. You can’t just post articles on Facebook. You need to speak up. Donate to the ACLU of Georgia. Show up for this reading on July 28 (you get a night of theatre with great actors and all your donations go to the fight!). Talk to your friends who are for this legislation and try to have a conversation about the dangers of it. Our profession in Georgia is quite literally on the line here. Stay focused. Stay diligent.
Stay and Fight! (With the love of Jesus.)
Chad Darnell is an actor/ writer/ producer/ director and sometimes casting director. He most recently appeared as “Hedwig” in Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Atlanta’s Pinch n Ouch Theatre. He will direct his screenplay The Undertaker’s Wife” in Georgia later this year. His podcast “OMG, I Love You” is available on Spotify and iTunes
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.