Recently, Georgia enacted voter ID laws that some say are meant to protect elections from fraud. Others say the laws are racially motivated attempts to make it difficult for minorities, particularly Black people, to vote. This move has not made the state popular. Meanwhile, Georgia has been a favored state with Hollywood since they enacted the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act in 2005. In brief, they offer tax incentives that save production companies millions of dollars if they shoot in Georgia instead of another state. But can Will Smith really shoot a movie where he plays a real-life runaway slave in a state making headlines for racist laws? The actor and director for Emancipation have decided that sounds like a terrible play, and have thus decided to make new plans, leaving Georgia behind for nearby Louisiana.
This news comes from Deadline. Emancipation is a thriller story based on the real life historical accounts of Peter, a runaway slave. Deadline speculated that the optics for this Will Smith movie would be particularly terrible if the production chose to stay in Georgia. The story itself takes place in Louisiana. So while Deadline estimates that the move to the nearby state will cost production at least $15 million, that move will be worth it for this particular movie. However, they don’t feel that other productions will find it necessary to abandon the tax incentives that Georgia offers.
Naturally, that’s up for debate. While Emancipation had particular concerns here, now that the Will Smith movie has left, it does open other productions up to more scrutiny if they don’t decide to follow. The move sets an example. One that may not bode well for Georgia.
Georgia politician Stacey Abrams has urged Hollywood not to boycott her state. She says that politicians like Brian Kemp, responsible for the new voting laws, would love that kind of boycott. She said in an online panel that a boycott would give Kemp someone to blame. He would love the opportunity to pin Hollywood as an easy villain to wag his finger at. Meanwhile, the people who suffer are those in Georgia without the economic benefits that Hollywood productions bring. However, that’s part of why the team behind Emancipation claimed they’re moving to Georgia. Those economic benefits now go to Louisiana.
Meanwhile, the Will Smith movie is moving forward with its own plans for production. Emancipation is a movie based on a true story. It’s such a famous story that it’s surprising it’s taken this long for the story to reach the big screen. Peter was the slave of John and Bridget Lyons. The Lyons were plantation owners in Louisiana who whipped Peter, nearly to death. The man ran away from the plantation in a horrific tale, where he escapes cruelty at every turn. Eventually, in 1863, a photo is taken of his back. This picture was titled The Scourged Back and became world-famous. It’s a terrible photo that shows what Peter endured and the realities of slavery to a world that had conflicted information on the issue.
In the South at the time, there was a narrative defending slavery as a positive thing for the enslaved. It’s the kind of shameful history that can turn your stomach. The photo of Peter helped shift public opinion and the trajectory of history at a critical time. Emancipation is an important story to tell and an intimidating one. In terms of the optics of where they film and every other decision they make during production, it will be important for Will Smith and team to get it right.
As for when we’ll be seeing this important story from Will Smith, the timing isn’t clear yet. His schedule is always full. We know that he has Bright 2 coming up soon and should be returning as Deadshot, so Emancipation is likely a couple of years away yet.