Film Industry, Atlanta Mayor React To 'Emancipation' Production Move
The fallout continues from Georgia's new elections law, which has brought upon sweeping changes to the state's voting regulations and has sparked fierce commentary from both sides of the political aisle across the country.
After the law's passage in late March, several celebrities, including Star Wars' Mark Hamill, called for a boycott of Georgia's multi-billion dollar film industry in response — a move that some industry workers believed was misdirected.
Walking Dead set electrician and dimmer tech Kit Fay told GPB News at the time that a boycott could be harmful to those it aims to support.
"I think a boycott that comes completely from the outside is going to hurt a lot of people who are also being harmed by voter disenfranchisement as well as a lot of other working-class Georgians," they said.
John Draekul, who runs an independent film production company in the state, agreed.
"I don't think [a boycott] is a good idea," he said. "You have to keep in mind that the majority of people employed by the film industry in Georgia are not salaried. They can only earn a living if there are films being made in Georgia."
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: As Celebrities Call For Georgia Film Boycott, Industry Workers Yell 'Cut'
Now, some of those worries are coming to be realized, with news of director Antoine Fuqua and actor Will Smith's moving production of their new film Emancipation from Georgia. The film, which was originally slated to begin filming in June, tells the story of an enslaved man who escapes a plantation to join the Union army.
Director Antoine Fuqua gave this statement to NPR upon news of the decision:
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.
GPB News spoke again to industry workers who previously shared their concerns for reaction to the news.
Glen Peison, who has worked as a prop designer on Netflix productions in the state, said earlier, "Mark Hamill is a hero of mine, but this is not the way."
Now he said that this latest move is also bad for the state's industry workers.
"I understand the sentiment and the feeling behind it," he said. "In practice, it’s an ineffective tactic if the end game is to bring about change in Georgia and make voting accessible."
Fay said the move to pull production out of the state lacked substance.
"Pulling out just feels like an easy PR move to avoid association with these policies without having to actually do anything to try to help the people impacted by them," they said.
Fay said that there would have been more impact if the production, whose $120 million distribution deal broke a bidding record at Cannes, would have stayed and helped advocate for change.
"I think staying and using their power to help us fight these measures would do a lot more tangible good than just washing their hands of the issue and moving on to somewhere else," they said.
Draekul said the decision could negatively affect communities already being disenfranchised under the new elections law.
"This move will cost many Georgians their jobs," he said. "Many of these will be minorities that they say the law will be hurting. This seems to help nothing but the image of individuals leaving Georgia. If people are having difficulty voting, taking away possible employment will not make this any easier."
Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms shared her reaction to the news on Twitter, writing that "the dominos continue to fall" in the wake of the new elections law.
The film and television industries in Georgia generated $9.5 billion in 2018, according to state data, and currently, around 60 film projects are in production in the state. But with this, the first major production to leave Georgia, industry workers and insiders are left on edge as to whether others follow.