The acting, producing and directorial team of Will Smith and Antoine Fuqua have announced that they will move production on their big-budget, runaway slave thriller Emancipation out of the state of Georgia in protest over the state’s new set of voting restrictions. The voting laws passed by Gov. Brian Kemp and the state’s GOP-dominated legislature have come under heavy criticism by voting rights activists and major corporations around the U.S., which has already resulted in Georgia losing out on the 2021 MLB All-Star Game, which had been scheduled to happen at the Atlanta Braves’ Truist Park.
“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,” said Fuqua and Smith in a joint statement. “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.”
Emancipation, which was scheduled to begin filming on June 21, is the true story of a slave known as “Whipped Peter,” who fled Louisiana in a quest to make it to Union lines, eventually joining the northern Army. Photos taken of Whipped Peter during the war depicted his heavily scarred back, the result of abuse he received while enslaved on a plantation in Louisiana. Fuqua is directing the film from a script by William N. Collage, and it was sold to Apple Studios in a deal that reportedly reached $120 million. It’s uncertain where production on the film would move now, but it’s just the latest major project to leave Georgia during intense media scrutiny of the new voting law.
The voting law, meanwhile, has earned widespread national attention for the fact that it makes voting more difficult in a variety of ways that seem to be primarily aimed at the state’s Black voters, who were instrumental in flipping Georgia blue in the 2020 president election (and follow-up Senate races) for the first time in decades. State GOP responded with changes to the law that shorten the duration of absentee voting, increase the forms of ID necessary to vote absentee/by mail, limit the use of drop boxes, and even make it a crime to hand out free water or food to voters standing in line for hours in the Georgia heat. Many of the non-existent “issues” addressed by the law seem directly based in Donald Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. Defenders of the restrictions, unable to properly explain why a law needs to exist to prevent someone from receiving a water bottle while standing in line, have taken to arguments such as “Why can’t people bring their own?” while ignoring the fact that there’s no defensible reason to outlaw handing out water bottles in the first place.
The law signed by Trump defender (and frequent Trump target, at the same time) Gov. Brian Kemp has drawn condemnation from major corporations such as Delta, Coca-Cola, ViacomeCBS, AT&T and others, while filmmakers and actors such as James Mangold and Mark Hamill have announced that they will boycott film and TV production in Georgia as a result, while the voting restrictions persist.