Will Smith, Antoine Fuqua Won’t Shoot ‘Emancipation’ in Georgia Because of Voting Restrictions

Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua are the newest big names to announce they’ll be taking their business out of Georgia following the passing of the highly controversial Election Integrity Act of 2021, which has drawn the ire of voting rights groups that are accusing lawmakers of voter suppression.

via: Variety

The announcement continues the economic fallout from Gov. Brian Kemp and the 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 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.

“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.

Smith and Fuqua are not alone. Major League Baseball recently pulled the All Star Game out of Atlanta in protest of the voting laws, which has rankled Republicans like Mitch McConnell, who thinks corporations should “stay out of politics.” Except, of course, when it comes to political donations. Mitch has gladly accepted those.

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