Producers of “Machete,” a politically charged race war film about Hispanic immigration think Texas’ government should award them a grant to help fund the movie despite its anti-Texas stance.
A Texas appeals court ruled that Texas Film Commission was within its rights to deny producers of the movie state incentive funds because the film shows Texas in a negative light.
The 2010 Robert Rodriguez film was initially promised a grant of 5 to 15 percent in tax breaks under the office's Moving Image Industry Incentive Program when the Commission first read the script, but the offer was later rescinded after a post-production review.
In the film, Machete, a Mexican Federale turned vigilante (Danny Trejo) takes revenge after a Texas businessman tricks him into riling anti-immigrant sentiments by getting Machete to kill a Texas politician.
The Commission’s decision to cancel funding frustrated the producers, who said they would not have filmed in Texas and spent $8 million on production wages and other expenses in the state had they known the grant would be recalled.
However, Justice Scott Field’s court opinion says the Commission can change its mind after reviewing the final project:
“The 'content' reviewable at the post-production stage is more comprehensive and includes not just the written words of the script, but also the manner in which the words were spoken and the locations and costumes used by the actors delivering the lines of the script,” Field wrote.
The fusion of guns, immigration, taxes, and corrupt Texan businessmen and politicians was too much for the Commission.
Forcing taxpayers to pay for a film that makes such a strong political statement on an issue as controversial as immigration was a step too far, the judge agreed with the Commission.
The details of the plot even let John Nolte of Big Hollywood to accuse director Robert Rodriguez of attempting to "profit from telling lies about Arizona's immigration law and mak[ing] infamous history by stoking a race war."
The debate over whether the content judgement involved in the film incentives awards process counts as censorship has festered since the program was implemented.
Former governor Rick Perry fostered the program in an effort to bring more business to the state, but the approval process currently walks a dangerous line between fostering the economy and controlling it.
The rules of the Commission ban funding for movies that contain "inappropriate content or content that portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion" and decisions require consideration of “general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the citizens of Texas."
Tom Copeland, director of the Texas Film Commission until 2005, who now teaches at Texas State University expressed concern about the government’s well-meaning involvement in the movie-making business.
“People want the money, but the thing is that governments give and governments take away,” Copeland said. “You can read the script and have your interpretation, but then once it’s finished and done you don’t always know how things are going to come out. These incentives programs might sound good to the people funding the movies, but along with that is going to come all these stupid little rules and regulations.”
Should the awards program be scrapped for fear it spirals into censorship? Unless Texans want to keep footing the bill for politically correct movies slamming them and their government, it should.