New Will Smith film ditches Georgia over voting laws

(Will Smith pulls plug on Georgia production)

More economic fallout continues from the controversial new Georgia voting restrictions. Director Antoine Fuqua and megastar Will Smith have pulled their production of Emancipation out of the state. This follows Major League Baseball’s decision to do the same with the 2021 All-Star Game.

Last month, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed the controversial 98-page omnibus bill, after the Republican-controlled state legislature approved it. This was in response to voter-fraud alleged by the GOP, but was never proven.

Critics maintain the new law amounts to to voter suppression, aimed at reducing the turnout of people of color.

The rules shorten the duration of absentee voting, require absentee voters to produce identification, limit the use of drop boxes and make it a crime to hand out free food or water to voters standing in line. This affects people of color more than any other group.

Besides MLB, companies such as Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, ViacomCBS and AT&T have criticized the restrictions. Variety reports that director James Mangold and actor Mark Hamill have vowed to boycott film and television production in Georgia while the new voting law is in place.

“At this moment in time, the Nation is coming to terms with its history and is attempting to eliminate vestiges of institutional racism to achieve true racial justice,” Fuqua and Smith said in a joint statement about Emancipation. “We cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that enacts regressive voting laws that are designed to restrict voter access. The new Georgia voting laws are reminiscent of voting impediments that were passed at the end of Reconstruction to prevent many Americans from voting. Regrettably, we feel compelled to move our film production work from Georgia to another state.”

According to Variety, Emancipation was scheduled to begin filming on June 21. The film stars Smith as Peter, a fugitive from slavery who is fleeing Louisiana in the hopes of traveling north to freedom. Fuqua will direct from a script by William N. Collage.

The film is based on a true story. Smith’s character, “Whipped Peter,” was an enslaved person who emancipated himself from a southern plantation and joined the Union Army.

In 1863, photos taken of Peter during an Army medical examination first appeared in Harper’s Weekly. Known as “The Scourged Back,” one image shows Peter’s bare back, lacerated by a whipping he received on the plantation where he was enslaved.

Fuqua Films and Smith’s media company Westbrook Inc. are backing the film, which sold to Apple Studios in a deal reportedly valued at $120 million.

It is unclear if this decision for Emancipation will have any affect on other productions. Georgia is now a major production hub and home to Tyler Perry Productions, many Marvel projects and The Walking Dead.