For reasons that should become quite clear once the details of the project are explained below, Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua have moved production of their upcoming film, Emancipation. The project had originally been slated to film in Georgia, but following the recent signing into law of restrictive voting-law initiatives by Republican Governor Brian Kemp, the movie’s production has been relocated to Louisiana.
The announcement is only the latest in a series of actions taken in response to the recent actions by Georgia lawmakers. As we’ve previously noted, the new law is one of the most sweeping of the Republican party’s recent efforts to make American elections more “fair,”—i.e., easier for them to win—by making it harder for the majority of people, and especially Black people, to vote. (Yes, this is the law that includes making it a crime to hand out food and water to people waiting in line to vote. Its defenders say that protects “election integrity,” which is a funny way of spelling “Jim Crow-era disenfranchisement.”) So, following in the footsteps of Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All-Star game out of Atlanta, the Smith film is uprooting its planned shoot in protest of these regressive voting measures.
While it’s important to note that the calls to boycott the state when it comes to filming film and TV projects there have slowed somewhat after activists like Stacey Abrams and Bernice King argued against the position, the details of the film make it fairly clear why the filmmakers felt the need to move the production. A longtime passion project for both Smith and Fuqua, the film tells the story of Peter, the slave who fled a Louisiana plantation while nearly dying from being whipped, and who survived his harrowing journey North to join the Union army. As Deadline mentions in its reporting on the move, when a photo taken of the scars on his back during a medical examination was subsequently published, it became “indisputable proof of the cruelty and barbarity of slavery in America. The photo reached around the world. It solidified the cause of abolitionists and prompted many free Blacks to join the Union Army.”
Needless to say, the optics of continuing to film this particular story in a state that has just decided to roll back the clock on voting rights for minorities was something that director, star, and studio decided they simply couldn’t accept. Smith and Fuqua released a statement saying they could not “in good conscience” film the movie in the state. The complete statement is below:
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. 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.
The move is not expected to presage a mass boycott of the state, given activist intervention in that area. Those looking for more direct ways to help combat these racist policies in Georgia can check out FairFight.com.