A major Apple Studios film telling the story of a man who escapes slavery that is set to be directed by Antoine Fuqua and star Will Smith will no longer film in Georgia as a result of a controversial voting bill that passed in the state last month.
Emancipation is based on the life of an enslaved man named Peter who escapes from a plantation and joins the Union army. The film is the first production to leave the state as a result of its new law. The film and TV industries are huge revenue generators for Georgia, pulling in billions of dollars.
In a joint statement to NPR, Fuqua and Smith said: “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.”
Georgia’s Election Integrity Act of 2021 adds additional ID requirements to absentee voting, and makes it a crime for many volunteers to hand out water or food within 150ft of polling precincts. The law also places drop boxes inside voting sites. These drop boxes, which have been in place since last year, will only be accessible during early voting hours instead of 24/7.
The move – which Republicans are also seeking to replicate in other states that they control – has been widely condemned by voting rights advocates and Democratic politicians, including Joe Biden, as an attempt to discourage voting. They say the laws are likely to primarily affect communities of color, who often vote Democrat, and are aimed at boosting Republicans in elections.
The decision to withdraw filming of Emancipation follows Major League Baseball’s announcement that they will not host this year’s All-Star Game in the state as a result of the voting law. The game has been moved to Colorado.
Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, criticized that sporting decision and claimed it was a product of “cancel culture”. In a statement issued alongside the house speaker, David Ralston, he said: “Georgians – and all Americans – should fully understand what the MLB’s kneejerk decision means: cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included. If the left doesn’t agree with you, facts and the truth do not matter.”
The voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams has previously said she is opposed to boycotting the state in response to the voting law, emphasizing the impact that decreased business could have on marginalized communities.
“My deep concern that is if we call for a boycott, the very people who are helping change the nature of economic opportunity and political opportunity will leave us behind,” she said during a panel last week, according to Variety. “So my message is stay and fight. Come and lift up your voices and join us.”