– By James Powers –
To Bob Iger and Ted Sarandos,
I’m writing you today as someone who is both thankful for and intimidated by your respective contributions to the American pop-culture landscape. As leaders at two studios that are titanic forces in their respective fields, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the two of you have in your combined power a good 75% of the film and video content that matters most to Americans.
As such, you hold the keys to what could potentially be a great unifying force in this shattered country of ours. The ideological rifts around race, sexuality, immigration, gun control, foreign policy, reproduction and so many other issues seem to split wider every day. But blessedly, mercifully, people of all political and sociological stripes still share a love for Star Wars, Stranger Things, The Haunting of Hill House, just about anything from Pixar… I could go on, but I think you get my point. You guys are, in many ways, two of the chief caretakers of our nation’s stories and dreams.
Of course, even the dream-makers still operate commercial ventures, which means they need to protect their bottom line, and that goal that frequently gets in the way of political neutrality. This became apparent recently when you both issued warnings to the state of Georgia about the likely consequences to film and TV production there, should they move forward with the passage of HB 481, which outlaws abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
As you put it, Mr. Iger, “I think many people who work for us will not want to work there, and we will have to heed their wishes in that regard.” Judging from the widespread outcry against the bill, that attitude seems prudent to an extent. Even a titan like the Walt Disney Company is nothing without its people, so if said people don’t want to go to Georgia, then neither can you.
But, Mr. Sarandos, you took it a step further when you said that “we have many women working on productions in Georgia, whose rights, along with millions of others, will be severely restricted by this law,” and that, consequently, you and your company “will work with the ACLU and others to fight it in court.” In other words, you view this as an issue not just of practicality, but of morality as well. A woman’s ability to choose abortion is, in your view, a basic human right and one that you as an employer must ensure. So if producing content in Georgia won’t allow you to do that, then you will simply have to stop bringing projects there.
Hopefully I present the situation fairly, if perhaps a bit simplistically. Hopefully I’m expressing something that seems self-evident to you – but the reason I am writing you today is to present the possibility that such ideas aren’t, in fact, self-evident. I humbly ask you to consider that they only seem so because of the extremely vocal contingent in the film and TV industry that views them as such, and to hear me out as I try to present you a different viewpoint, without resorting to demonizing rhetoric or graphic medical diagrams.
I consider myself unambiguously pro-life, but my purpose here is not to bring you around to my way of thinking. I merely hope to remind you that there are many who view abortion differently than do your outspoken colleagues, and that we are not all just repressive patriarchal luddites, contrary to the assumptions of some.
Being pro-life does not mean that I see women who choose abortion as baby-murdering reprobates – I don’t, and neither do many pro-lifers.
Nor that I think a woman’s proper role is purely domestic, that she is ordained by God to be some sort of homebound offspring incubator – I don’t, and neither do many pro-lifers.
Nor that I think pro-life legislation should be prioritized to the exclusion of, say, social supports for immigrants, or single mothers, or foster children – I don’t, and (once more for the folks in the back) neither do many pro-lifers.
But speaking of repressive patriarchal luddites – one often hears the slogan “no uterus, no opinion!” when a male expresses reservations about abortion. Let’s talk about that real quick before it gets in the way of everything else. While it is true that I don’t have a uterus, that I am in fact a male, to claim that this disqualifies me (or both of you, for that matter) from an opinion on the issue is an ad-hominem argument in maybe the most literal way possible. I guess it could still be a legitimate criticism, if you are willing to overlook millennia of western philosophical tradition. After all, that tradition originated in a patriarchal society. So if you find the fallacy compelling, that’s fine, but in that case we’ll just have to agree to disagree and you can stop reading here. Apologies for being short. I pride myself on typically being pretty open-minded toward pro-choice arguments, but this one just really, really gets to me.
Still here? Great. Thank you, gentlemen.
But anyway, as I said, I’m not ultimately here to talk philosophy or ethics or to try and change your mind. I just want to show you that things are not nearly as cut-and-dried as so many in Hollywood assert. The assumption that pro-life ideology comes hand-in-hand with misogyny, scientific unenlightenment and cultural regression is mistaken at best, willfully dense at worst. The consensus of embryology has been pretty clear that a fetus is a human life. The consistent life ethic, which many pro-lifers espouse, condemns abortion, capital punishment, and the arms race all in the same breath. More than a few pro-life pundits have spoken out against the Trump administration. And it actually isn’t at all hard to see the connection between abortion on demand and systemic mysogyny. Even one of Hollywood’s most vocal Georgia critics, Alyssa Milano, intuited the importance of chastity – normally seen as a virtue of the patriarchy – in holding men sexually accountable. Though she likely wouldn’t admit it.
In sum, the pro-life sector is not merely a collection of boys-club Southern senators and bonneted Puritans. It is much larger and more diverse than that, more than Variety or The Hollywood Reporter will lead you to believe. What is more, it includes a lot of your biggest fans – we’re not just a bunch of hypothetical Bible-belters who would just as soon switch over to PureFlix when the studios do something to make us mad. There are plenty of pro-lifers who turned out for Endgame and The Last Jedi, for Always Be My Maybe and Black Mirror, who freaked out when the trailers dropped for Onward and Dark: Season 2 (guilty), who will definitely binge The Mandalorian and Stranger Things 3 when those shows land.
I don’t say all this as a veiled threat of boycott or something, but as an appeal to the affection you naturally have, as storytellers, for your audience. We are here, we love what you’ve created, and we hope that you (and Hollywood at large) will at least hear us out when it comes to such deeply important, deeply personal issues as abortion and women’s rights and sex and parenthood. If nothing else, I hope you will at least stick around in Georgia and let the many film and TV workers there keep their livelihoods.
Part of why I love movies so much, and stories in general, is that they do so much to help me better understand the world around me, and the people in it. They give voice to the experiences and history of so many people, reimagining and interpreting it in endlessly creative ways. As an aspiring storyteller myself, and a committed believer in the rights of the unborn, I can confidently say that the pro-life movement is in no way seeking to silence the voices of women or constrain their freedom. If anything, we’re trying to preserve the countless new lives and new stories that the unborn represent, to let them be expressed.
I don’t ask you, Mr. Iger and Mr. Sarandos, to agree with or advocate for the pro-life movement. I simply ask that you not use your formidable power in a misguided attempt to silence its voice.
About the Author
James Powers is a staff writer for the Impacting Culture Blog, currently earning his MBA in Film Producing at JPCatholic as a member of the class of 2019.
For all articles by James, click here.