While the role of this column isn’t to give you the big-picture political analysis you’ve either been mainlining or avoiding all week (especially given how wrong most of the mainstream pundits were with their false tsunami warnings), you already know the GOP underperformed in this election and there was, essentially, a kind of massive national “draw” between the parties, as opposed to a singular wave.
As of this writing, on a midweek evening, the Democrats may yet hold the Senate by a seat or two (perhaps contingent on December’s Georgia Senate runoff — no, it ain’t over yet), L.A.’s Mayor’s race probably won’t be decided until next week, and close races in Nevada and Arizona may not be settled until after this column runs (though Arizona, after this evening, is looking a little better for the donkeys than the elephants).
And it is in the Grand Canyon State that we can begin to look at some of these results through a more showbiz industry, well, “lens” — pun not necessarily intended, but no doubt inescapable.
Earlier this year, Arizona passed a $150 Film Tax Credit plan, with hopes of also eventually building some digital media infrastructure in the state. The passage was bipartisan, but anyone supporting it should be relieved that Phoenix-area TV anchor-turned-rabid election denier Kari Lake appears to be losing her bid for the governor’s office.
It’s hard to imagine any industry wanting to help start any kind of infrastructure in a place where the chief public executive has vowed to be that industry’s “worst frickin’ nightmare” for the entire eight years she planned on being in office.
Had she won — and she could still manage to dredge up enough votes somewhere to squeak by her relatively soft-spoken opponent, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs — the best course of action for anyone in Arizona hoping to learn production-related job skills, or find work with them, would be to move next door to New Mexico.
Meanwhile, further east along the I-10 (being sure to switch over to the I-20 at some point), you eventually come to Atlanta, the capital of Georgia, where Brian Kemp beat out Stacey Abrams to retain his hold on the governorship.
Unlike, say, Georgia senatorial candidate Herschel Walker, who straight-facedly calls himself a “warrior for God,” Kemp, according to a recent Atlanta Journal write-up on the two campaigns’ contrasting styles (and visions for the Republican party), “could be mistaken for the president of any chamber of commerce.”
Part of that is Kemp’s constant touting of Georgia’s current spate of job growth, and part of that, of course, is the busy production hub that Atlanta has become, with its soundstages, Marvel movies, Tyler Perry films, Walking Dead spinoffs, and so much more.
This was made evident at a recent screening of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (obligatory SPOILER ALERT ahead), a film unusually steeped in grief for a superhero tale (as it reckons with the real-life passing of Chadwick Boseman), and also the costs of rage in both Prince T’Challa’s survivors, and even more destructively, in the character of Namor (Tenoch Huerta). Here, the former Atlantean is retconned as something of a Mayan legend, made mutant by his mother’s use of “vibranium” (the Macguffin-y elemental substance that also powers much Wakandan science), which the First World relentlessly seeks to use, and exploit.
And it is that subplot, with its talk of colonizers — going back to the Conquistadors and running all the way up to the CIA — and the colonized (and Namor’s scorched-earth plans for vengeance on same) that will inevitably bring charges of “wokeness” to the film.
Which makes that large Georgia peach in the end credits, telling you the bulk of the film was made there, all the more ironic.
Kemp — who wouldn’t go along with Donald Trump’s attempts to steal Georgia’s electors after the last election — isn’t quite the overt cultural jihadi that his neighboring governor, the also re-elected Ron DeSantis, is. It’s hard to imagine DeSantis not looking for new groups of Americans, and aspects of American culture, to attack in his upcoming Presidential bid.
While Kemp will do most of what’s expected of him by segments of his base, not only as a Republican governor, but in particular, a southern one — make women’s reproductive care harder to get, guns easier, voting more difficult — and he’ll take his own jabs at “wokeness,” he also wouldn’t want all those tentpole productions to pull up stakes and start filming somewhere else, not when he’s been working hard to bring new auto plants into the state, and touting job growth in general.
Kemp will still need to throw the occasional beef loin to the ideologues on his right, but he will also try to not let it go much farther than electorally necessary — he was deliberately evasive in his debate with Abrams about whether he’d sign even more restrictive reproductive legislation (which doesn’t seem to be a particularly winning issue for the Grand Old Party).
And for the studios’ part, they’d really prefer not to have to go elsewhere, either, given the four million square feet and counting of soundstage space built up over the years in Atlanta, not to mention all the trained crews and the swell tax breaks.
Unlike Kari Lake or Ron DeSantis, whose political careers are built, in part, on attacking the same Americans their fellow book burners don’t like, Kemp would probably prefer not to have his hand forced toward even more extremist ideology, while the studios would prefer not to have to make any hard, costly stand because more high-profile above-the-liners start refusing to work in Atlanta.
After all, there’s a lot of lip service paid to climate change in Hollywood, too. But the houses of the A-list class are still gargantuan, the cars luxurious and not especially high mileage (unless they’re hybrids), and the lawns still sprawling.
So everyone will hope to go along, to get along, despite Georgia’s politics, and the degree to which they conflict with the politics in either America at large or even the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which might as well be reality to some people.
Former California Speaker of the Assembly and one-time Reagan gubernatorial opponent Jesse M. Unruh once said that “money was the mother’s milk of politics.” It’s also what drives the search for the elusive “sure thing” box office hit, and if Wakanda Forever does well enough (as it is almost certainly likely to do) to spawn another sequel, well then, what’s a little anti-imperialism and wokeness between friends?
More on our increasingly conflated electoral, box office, and award seasons, to come, as late results and breaking developments warrant.
Mark London Williams is a BTL alum who currently covers Hollywood, its contents and discontents, in his recurring “Across the Pond” dispatch for British Cinematographer magazine, contributes to other showbiz and production-minded sites, and musters out the occasional zombie, pandemic-themed, or demon-tinged book and script, causing an increased blurring in terms of what still feels like “fiction.”