May 6 • 45M

Pod: Hollywood's Abortion Quicksand

Was Don't Say Gay a warning shot against corporations speaking out? Plus: Depp and Heard’s 'mutual destruction'

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A rally outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on May 5,. (Bryan Dozier/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Today’s Ankler Hot Seat podcast welcomes back guest Howard Bragman, a crisis publicist and contributor to GMA who has handled the likes of Sharon Osbourne and Brett Ratner. On today’s episode, Bragman joins hosts Janice Min, Richard Rushfield and Tatiana Siegel to discuss the looming tension Hollywood is facing over the likely dismantling of Roe v. Wade and the prospect of abortion being made illegal, or rights being drastically diminished in almost half of the country’s states. In the days since a Supreme Court draft opinion leaked revealing a likely Roe rollback, everyone from Mark Ruffalo to Cher to Phoebe Bridgers has voiced their disgust. But in an age where Disney just went through the ringer over first inaction, then action, over Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill, resulting in the swift exit of their top comms exec, a sense of fear among executives about how to approach this new political minefield is looming. Will the opprobrium of a town’s talent, producers and executives amount to anything? 

Even though production and business is vast throughout entertainment in states likely to roll back rights — Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Arizona and more — Bragman predicts that the industry will likely stay quiet rather than boycott. “Hollywood has done a lot of saber-rattling in these states about gay rights issues and abortion issues and women's issues. Hollywood has done a lot of threatening, but very little action, to be honest. There's been very little actual punishment,” he notes. “So the question becomes: What happens when it's thrown back to the states and virtually half the states or half the population in the country decides that they don't want abortion… in all these states where they have huge investments and the people are gonna say, ‘Screw you. We voted. And it's our choice.’ And I think the studios are gonna be forced to acquiesce to the power of the voters in those states.”

The veteran Hollywood PR fixer also weighs in on the best advice he would give corporate clients on how to address the hot-button issue with staff, many of whom might be vocal and protest inaction by their C-suite. “I would empower them. I would have as much engagement with the women's groups, the LGBTQ groups as possible. Let 'em know what's going on,” he says. “Let 'em know the challenges you have as a corporation, let 'em know the responsibility you have that's financial, but also to your employees. And let 'em know the balancing act you have because I think there's a lot of wisdom in those groups, and there may be ways they can work together and come up with new ideas and new ways that can help both [employee and corporation], frankly.” 

Still, it’s a difficult needle to thread. After all, even California isn’t united. While the state is majority pro-choice, the state’s populace has become increasingly in favor of greater abortion restrictions, according to a recent survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California. The study found that 52% of Latinos would like to see greater restrictions, for example. And Bragman foresees deeper divisions on the topic, which will make Hollywood’s push for transgender bathroom rights in North Carolina and the Don’t Say Gay brouhaha in Florida seem like “quaint times compared to the devastation that's coming down the road.”

And if the abortion issue wasn’t polarizing enough, the hosts also discuss the latest on the scorched-earth defamation trial that pits Johnny Depp against ex-wife Amber Heard. The testimony has been explosive (his and hers physical abuse allegations as well as the actress publicly accusing her ex of sexual assault for the first time). But will either party emerge from the slugfest with their careers intact? Notes Bragman, who calls their fight “mutual destruction”, “Somebody's gonna figure out a way to be in the Johnny Depp business. And as f** up as it sounds, I've seen so many times where crises like this will help a person like this.”

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