Shortly after the passing of Georgia Senate Bill 202, the controversial elections bill led by State Assembly Republicans, actor Will Smith and producer Antoine Fuqua have pulled the production of their upcoming film, “Emancipation” from the state.
While this may seem negative in the short term for Georgia’s local film industry, the larger importance of this move, especially considering the content of “Emancipation,” cannot be understated. To say that this sort of action is good is an understatement, and in my personal opinion, economic protest is one of the most effective ways to engage in political action.
“This is Jim Crow 2.0,” activist and ACLU Georgia political director Christopher Bruce told WJCL in Savannah. Before SB 202 became law, he decried it as “a bill that will disenfranchise thousands of Georgians and is completely unnecessary.”
At first, the reaction to this bill may seem dramatic, but when measures like prohibiting distribution of food and drink in potentially hours-long voting lines are being introduced, this act of protest is more than justified.
Most importantly, halting filmmaking in Georgia hits the state where it hurts: its wallet.
As big budget productions like “Emancipation” generate thousands of local jobs, this is more than a strongly-worded statement. In just a one-year period from July 2018 to July 2019, nearly $3 billion dollars was invested in the state just from its film industry, which really shows how much Georgia profits from movies.
There is no better way to show resistance and resilience against actions like SB 202 than to directly pull money and jobs, and hopefully protests like this will make lawmakers think twice next time they vote on such measures.
“Emancipation” portrays the true story of a runaway enslaved man, played by Smith, who was whipped and brutalized, and subsequently escaped and joined the Union army during the Civil War. Given the criticism of SB 202 as racist voter suppression, Smith and Fuqua felt morally obligated to dissociate themselves from Georgia.
“The new Georgia voting laws are reminiscent of voting impediments that were passed at the end of Reconstruction to prevent many Americans from voting,” Smith and Fuqua said in a joint press release, tying today’s laws back to the Jim Crow strategies of disenfranchisement that were employed shortly after the events of “Emancipation.”
An image of the man’s disfigured back “played an influential role in broadening” people’s understanding of slavery during the Civil War, according to Frank Goodyear, the assistant curator of photographs at the National Photo Gallery. This was one of the first photos widely circulated that brought the true tortures of slavery to light.
SB 202 is proof that these sorts of acts of protest and defiance are necessary in a society still plagued by oppression. Economically boycotting an oppressor, whether it be by pulling a movie from a state passing harmful voting laws or choosing not to buy from a corporation donating to anti-LGBTQ organizations, has proven again and again to be effective.
The U.S. is a country founded on economic protest. Perhaps you’ve heard of one of the most impactful economic protests of all time, the 1773 Boston Tea Party, wherein American colonials threw hundreds of thousands of dollars of tea into the ocean to protest their being taxed by the British Empire without their consent or representation.
There are of course more recent and perhaps less ostentatious examples in our more recent history. A personal favorite of mine was 2019-2020’s “No Music For ICE!” protest. Over 800 musical artists signed a letter that they would not perform at any Amazon-sponsored music event in response to the constantly-problematic company’s business with the Department of Homeland Security, and therefore Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Both our history and modern activism reminds us of the importance of money in business and politics. I not only admire the fact that the producers of “Emancipation” are using this strategy, but I also believe it can be very effective as well, especially if they are not alone. If other productions were to join “Emancipation” in protest, Georgia’s politicians may stop ignoring their constituents and the will of its people who clearly do not support racist policies.