The office of Texas Gov. Rick Perry had no immediate reaction to a producer’s claim that it was approved for production tax incentives for the Robert Rodriguez-Ethan Maniquis film “Machete” but the governor’s film commission reneged under pressure from anti-immigration activists.
At issue is a provision of the rules for the state’s incentive program prohibiting awards to projects with “inappropriate content” or ones that depict Texas or Texans “in a bad light.”
The suit, filed by Machete’s Chop Shop in Travis County District Court last week, claims that after producers of “Machete” applied for incentives in May 2009, the director of the Texas Film Commission Bob Hudgins “determined that the script did not include inappropriate content and that it did not depict Texas or Texans in a negative fashion.” The application had preliminary approval.
But after a trailer for the movie was released in May 2010, anti-immigration activists “inundated the Texas Film Commission with letters, faxes, emails, phone calls, and other communications, all claiming that the content was inappropriate.”
A throwback to the violent exploitation pics of the 1970s, “Machete” inspired a spate of articles on its release on whether it would inflame the immigration debate. It centers on a former Mexican federale (Danny Trejo), out to seek revenge on the forces that murdered his family, with one of the final battles depicting illegal immigrants victorious against border vigilantes.
The film was released in September 2010.
After Hudgins resigned on Nov. 30, 2010, the new state film director Heather Page and deputy director Carol Pirie, informed the producers that they did not qualify for the grant because the final content was “inappropriate” or portrayed Texas or its citizens “in a negative fashion.”
But the producers claim that such a determination was unlawful, using the wrong section of a state statute to make it. They say that such a determination should be made after the initial review of the script, and that the final review of the project should have been to determine “whether there has been a substantial change.”
The producers say that they spent $8 million in the state in making the project, relying on getting the incentives. The final content, they said, “does not make substantial changes from the previously approved content.”
“No other film has had their application denied post-production,” the suit stated, adding that the revocation “reeks of political influence on freedom of speech and political partisanship.”
“Such actions represent an unconstitutional attempt by the Governor’s office to influence the speech of movie producers in Texas,” the suit stated. They also cited reports that Perry was involved in the decision to deny the application.
They are seeking a declaration that they are entitled to a “lawful final review” to determine if it qualifies for the grant, as well as a determination that the rules governing how projects portray Texas and Texans are unconstitutional.
Named as defendants are Page and the Texas Film Commission.