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Economic Pressure on GA Grows as Will Smith Pulls Film Production Out of State

Smith’s is the first film or TV production to join the economic boycott of Georgia over its restrictive voting measures.

Actor Will Smith listens to testimony at a committee hearing at the Hart Senate Office Building on July 17, 2012.

Actor Will Smith and film director Antoine Fuqua released a joint statement on Monday announcing they would no longer produce a highly anticipated film in Georgia due to the state’s recently passed restrictive voting law.

Emancipation is a film that takes place during the U.S. Civil War, based on a real-life enslaved Black man named Peter who emancipated himself during that period. Financed by Apple Studios, the film has a production budget of $120 million — some of which would have likely gone to local businesses in Georgia and eventually, toward state government revenues.

“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,” the acclaimed actor and the director 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.”

Describing the new law in Georgia as “reminiscent of voting impediments that were passed at the end of Reconstruction,” Smith and Fuqua stated they would seek a new location to shoot the movie.

“Regrettably, we feel compelled to move our film production work from Georgia to another state,” they added.

Emancipation is the first film or television production to announce its boycott of the state, following the passage of restrictive voting laws by the Republican legislature and Gov. Brian Kemp. It’s unclear at this time whether other production companies will follow suit. The state is a favorite for a number of producers, as Georgia provides generous tax incentives for companies that make their films and television shows there.

Georgia lawmakers passed the new voting law to ostensibly stop election fraud, which is virtually nonexistent in the state and elsewhere. The law, however, creates burdensome barriers for voters, including implementing unnecessarily strict voter ID requirements for absentee ballots, while making it easier for the state legislature to subvert the will of the electorate if lawmakers do not like the outcome of an election.

Because of this, several companies, responding to public pressure, have spoken out against the new law, including Georgia-based Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines. Major League Baseball also announced that its All-Star Game, originally scheduled to take place in Atlanta this summer, would be moved out of the state because of the changes to the voting rules.

It’s not clear yet that these actions will result in Georgia lawmakers altering the law that was just passed, which makes voting in the state, already a difficult task for many communities, even harder. But history shows boycotts and other similar actions can work.

“Recent boycotts have helped restrain the flood of racist and anti-LGBT legislation,” Kevin Young, an associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, recently wrote in an op-ed for Truthout. “These boycotts have succeeded by imposing direct costs on corporations, which have then intervened to demand that state politicians accede to movement demands. Even unreconstructed reactionaries like Brian Kemp are not immune to those pressures.”

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