Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua are pulling their upcoming Apple movie Emancipation out of Georgia due to the state’s controversial new voting laws.Apple shelled out roughly $125 million for the prized package last year, one that is considered a passion project for both Fuqua and Smith. The film is based on William N. Collage‘s script about “Whipped Peter,” who was an actual enslaved person who emancipated himself from a Southern plantation and joined the Union Army. When the Army doctor examined Peter, he discovered terrible scars from numerous whippings over the years, and the subsequent photos that were published made shockwaves around the country, with one image becoming known as “The Scourged Back.” The photo appeared in newspapers around the world and solidified the cause of abolitionists, prompting many free Blacks to join the Union Army.Fuqua was scheduled to start filming Emancipation in Georgia on June 21 but Deadline reports that production will likely move to Louisiana, where Peter begins his gripping journey north. Apple is expected to lose roughly $15 million in tax rebates, according to the trade, which also passed along a joint statement from Smith and Fuqua, who are producing under their WestbrookInc. and Fuqua Films banners.“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.”There has been a lot of chatter in recent weeks regarding Georgia after the state legislature and Republican governor Brian Kemp instituted what many believe to be more restrictive election laws designed to suppress the vote. Major League Baseball, for instance, moved its All-Star Game from Georgia to Colorado. Hollywood, which counts Atlanta as a major production hub, has remained largely silent on the hot-button issue.
Tyler Perry, who has long been based out of Georgia, and political leader Stacey Abrams are among the high-profile names who have urged Hollywood not to pull out of Georgia. They argue the move would have major repercussions for many crew members of color who are able to break into the industry thanks to the concentration of production in Atlanta, which serves as a pipeline for Black crew members in particular.
Those below-the-liners are an important part of the equation, as the media all too frequently focuses on diversity among actors and directors, ignoring the majority of people on any given production — the crew. So while Perry and Abrams certainly have a point, it’s easy to see why Smith and Fuqua felt they had no choice but to make this decision given the very nature of their film. It’s also nice to see that Apple is supporting them despite its own apparent financial detriment — pennies to the tech giant, but still.
We’ll see whether Hollywood’s own financial self-interests will continue to come first when these kinds of political matters arise, or whether the industry has turned a new corner of social justice and is ready to put its money where its mouth is. All I know is, the fact that it’s now a misdemeanor to offer food or water to voters in line is preposterous, especially given how long those lines can be in certain areas. With regards to this specific project, which is centered around racism, I’m glad Smith and Fuqua emancipated this production from Georgia, which should really consider repealing any voting laws that make the process more restrictive. We need to be encouraging people to vote and to accept the results — whether we like them or not, ahem.