LOS ANGELES — Antoine Fuqua and Will Smith will move production on their big-budget, runaway slave thriller “Emancipation” out of Georgia in protest over the state’s controversial new voting restrictions.
The announcement continues the economic fallout from Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, and the GOP-controlled state legislature’s decision to pass new regulations that critics maintain amount to voter suppression, aimed at reducing the turnout of people of color. The new laws were passed in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and after Georgia voted for a Democrat for president for the first time in decades.
The rules shorten the duration of absentee voting, require 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.
“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,” Fuqua, the movie’s director, and Smith said 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, stars Smith as Peter, a fugitive from slavery who is fleeing Louisiana in the hopes of traveling north to freedom. Fuqua will direct from a script by William N. Collage.
Fuqua Films and Smith’s media company Westbrook Inc. are backing the film, which sold to Apple Studios in a deal reportedly valued at $120 million. It is unclear where production will move and whether or not Smith and Fuqua’s decision will pressure other Hollywood players to cease filming in Georgia. The Peach State has become a major production hub in recent years, with the likes of Tyler Perry and Marvel setting up major film and television shoots in Georgia because of its generous incentives.
Some media companies such as ViacomCBS and AT&T have criticized the restrictions, while others have remained silent. Top talent has been more outspoken. Filmmakers like James Mangold and actors such as Mark Hamill have vowed to boycott film and television production in Georgia while the new voting law is in place.
In the wake of the new voting restrictions, major 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. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, 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.
“Emancipation” is based on a true story. Smith’s character “Whipped Peter” was an enslaved person who emancipated himself from a southern plantation and joined the Union Army. 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. That image perfectly captured the brutality of slavery and inspired free Black people to enlist and fight for the Union.