Actors Will Smith (L) and Antoine Fuqua.
“Emancipation,” a slave drama directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Will Smith, will no longer be filmed in the state of Georgia due to a new voting law that was signed there by Gov. Brian Kemp in late March.
“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 Smith and Fuqua in a joint statement Monday.
“We cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that enacts regressive voting laws that are designed to restrict voter access,” they said. “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.”
This is the first film to pull its production out of the state because of the legislation.
The new law, which includes a restriction on drop boxes, makes it a crime to provide food or water to voters lined up outside polling stations, requires mandatory proof of identity for absentee voting and creates greater legislative control over how elections are run. Opponents say these provisions will disproportionately disenfranchise people of color.
Since 2008, enticing tax incentives have turned the state a production hub for film and television, particularly for Netflix, HBO Max, Disney’s slate of Marvel movies and TV shows, and The CW. Georgia has also developed infrastructure for big-budget productions and is home to a tremendously skilled workforce of crew members, craftsmen and technicians.
Hollywood has been debating how to handle this most recent Georgia situation. Some have called for a production boycott, while others have worried that pulling out of the state would do more harm than good. For the most part, studios who have commented on the new law have condemned it, but not committed to halting production.
“Emancipation,” which Fuqua and Smith are producing for Apple Studios, centers around Whipped Peter, an enslaved person who emancipated himself durng the Civil War from a Southern plantation and joined the Union Army. He is most famous for being the subject of a series of photographs, which show the shockingly brutal scars on his back from being whipped as a slave.
It is unclear what the financial toll will be for moving the project’s production out of Georgia, but having Fuqua and Smith, who are both Black and major players in Hollywood and internationally, support the decision could put more pressure on other productions to leave the state.