Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua have released a statement stating that they have decided to pull out of filming their slavery film Emancipation in Georgia over the state’s reportedly ‘regressive voting laws’. Reportedly, the move by producers comes after weeks of between the filmmakers, film officials and Georgia political leaders, including voting rights activist Stacey Abrams. It is the first film to pull out of the state since the new laws came into effect - but others could follow suit.
In their statement, Smith and Fuqua said, “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.”
The state’s controversial restrictive election law has been signed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp. Along with Tyler Perry and some others, Abrams had urged Hollywood no to uproot its productions in response to the law and Emancipation’s exit will not presage an exodus. This is a special case as the film’s subject matter will be in contradiction to the regressive law.
Emancipation stars Smith in the leading role of Peter, a slave who fled a plantation in Louisiana after he was whipped within an inch of his life. He had to outwit cold-blooded hunters and the unforgiving swamps of Louisiana and finally joins the Union Army. The thriller is based on his true story, which is recorded in the annals of history with an indelible image; when Peter showed his bare back during an Army medical examination. The photo shows the gruesome scars left from a whipping delivered by an overseer on the plantation owned by John and Bridget Lyons that nearly killed him. The photo came to be known as ‘The Scourged Back’ and was published by The Independent in May 1863 and then in the Harper’s Weekly July 4 issue, it became indisputable proof of the cruelty and barbarity of slavery in America. The photo reached around the world. It solidified the cause of abolitionists and prompted many free Blacks to join the Union Army.