In light of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signing into a new voting bill into law that many argue is restrictive to minorities, actor Will Smith's new runaway slave movie Emancipation will no longer be produced in the state. Smith and the film's director, Antoine Fuqua, confirmed the news to Deadline Monday, stating they cannot "in good conscience" move forward with production. They did not provide any information on where else they might shoot the Apple TV+ movie, though Deadline reports Louisiana is a likely landing place.
The producing duo further stated how while the country is "coming to terms with its history" and "attempting to eliminate vestiges of institutional racism to achieve true racial justice," they "cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that enacts regressive voting laws that are designed to restrict voter access." Calling the new voting laws in Georgia "reminiscent of voting impediments that were passed at the end of Reconstruction to prevent many Americans from voting," Smith and Fuqua said they feel "compelled to move our film production work" out of Georgia.
Deadline reports the move will cost the production around $15 million because of the loss of the lucrative tax rebates that have made Georgia a popular shooting location. The filmmakers, film officials in Georgia and Louisiana and Georgia political leaders like Stacey Abrams have been in discussions for weeks about the situation. Abrams, along with Tyler Perry, urged Hollywood not to uproot its productions in response to the law's passage.
In Emancipation, Smith will play Peter, a slave who fled a plantation in Louisiana after whipping within an inch of his life. Outwitting and outrunning cold-blooded hunters and the treacherous Louisiana swamps, Peter made it north, where he joined the Union Army. The thriller is based on Peter's true story and garnered attention when a photo of his scarred, whipped back — taken during an Army examination — was published by The Independent in May 1863 and later in Harper's Weekly that same year. The photo, known as The Scourged Back, reached around the world, helped solidify abolitionists' cause, and prompted many free Black people to join the Union Army.
The film was the center of a heavy bidding war in June, with Apple beating out Warner Bros for an estimated $130 million. Smith and Fuqua signed the deal in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing that sparked Black Lives Matter protests nationwide.
“It was the first viral image of the brutality of slavery that the world saw,” Fuqua told Deadline in 2020. “Which is interesting, when you put it into perspective with today and social media and what the world is seeing, again. You can’t fix the past, but you can remind people of the past and I think we have to, in an accurate, real way. We all have to look for a brighter future for us all, for everyone. That’s one of the most important reasons to do things right now, is show our history. We have to face our truth before we can move forward.”
The new election laws in Georgia include tougher ID rules for absentee ballots, limiting the use of drop boxes, empowering state election board officials to override local boards and making it a misdemeanor to offer food or water to voters in line. Critics widely argued it was an attempt to make it more difficult for Black and other Georgia minority residents to vote.