Will Smith slave movie Emancipation withdraws production from Georgia over new voting law

Christian Holub
·2 min read

Hollywood is putting its money where its mouth is.

Weeks after a number of actors and directors vowed they would not film in Georgia in response to the state's restrictive new voting law, Will Smith has made it official. Smith and director Antoine Fuqua have moved production on their upcoming film Emancipation out of Georgia. Deadline was the first outlet to report the news.

"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," Smith and Fuqua 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."

Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images; Michael Loccisano/Getty Images Will Smith and Antoine Fuqua

Written by William N. Collage, Emancipation stars Smith as Peter, a real-life runaway slave who escaped a Louisiana plantation to head north and join the Union Army in the midst of the Civil War. Photos of Peter taken during his army medical examination showcased massive, intricate whipping scars on his back delivered by his former enslavers John and Bridget Lyons. Originally published in the July 4, 1863, issue of Harper's Weekly and known as "The Scourged Back," this image helped enflame abolitionist sentiment during the war.

The government of Georgia passed a restrictive voting law at the end of March, designed to make voting more difficult in the typically Republican state after its voters chose Democratic candidate Joe Biden in last year's U.S. presidential election. Some Georgia-based public figures like Tyler Perry and Stacey Abrams have warned that such boycotts will only harm workers and state residents who are not actually responsible for the new law, but Smith and Fuqua clearly felt that filming in a state whose legislation has been compared to Jim Crow by President Biden himself was not the right fit for a story about the Black freedom struggle.

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images The Scourged Back

This is not the first time Georgia has landed in hot water with Hollywood in recent years. In 2019, the state tried to pass a controversial so-called "heartbeat bill" that would have all but banned abortion in the state. At the time, several filmmakers threatened to boycott the state, despite its lucrative tax rebates for film production, until a federal judge blocked the bill.

Emancipation was set to begin filming on June 21 (the Monday after Juneteenth weekend), but it is not yet clear how the change-up will affect the filming schedule.

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