Will Smith and Antoine Fuqua will move production on their big-budget, runaway slave thriller Emancipation out of the state of Georgia in protest over the state’s controversial new voting restrictions.
NBC reports the announcement is a continuation of the economic fallout from Republican Governor Brian Kemp and the GOP-controlled state legislature’s decision to pass new regulations that — according to critics — amount to voter suppression, aimed at reducing the turnout of people of color. The new laws were passed after former President Donald Trump’s claimed that voter fraud was cost him the 2020 presidential election, as well as following Georgia’s vote for a Democrat for president for the first time in decades.
Per the news outlet, the rules shorten the duration of absentee voting, requiring 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.
Emancipation‘s movie director, Fuqua, and Smith said in a joint statement: “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.”
Emancipation was originally scheduled to begin filming on June 21, starring Smith as “Whipped Peter,” an enslaved person who emancipated himself from a southern plantation in Louisiana. Based on a true story, he is a fugitive from slavery fleeing to travel north to freedom. 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. The image captured the brutality of slavery and inspired free Black people to enlist and fight for the Union.
It is unclear where production will move and whether or not Smith and Fuqua’s decision will pressure more of Hollywood to cease filming in Georgia. Georgia has become a major production hub in recent years, with upcoming DC movies Black Adam starring The Rock, and Marvel’s upcoming Spider-man film, Spider-Man No Way Home setting up major film and television shoots in Georgia because of its generous incentives.
Media companies such as ViacomCBS and AT&T have criticized the restrictions, while others have remained silent. Logan director James Mangold and Star Wars actor Mark Hamill have vowed to boycott production in Georgia while the new voting law is in place.
Georgia-based corporations such as Delta and Coca-Cola have condemned the law and Major League Baseball opted to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta. Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, Starbucks Chairwoman Mellody Hobson, AMC chief Adam Aron and former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault are urging top chief executives to join a public pressure campaign on the state over its legislation.