The MPAA has a new crisis on its hands that’s potentially as serious as piracy: censorship by states doling out film production incentives. A just created Moving Image Industry Incentive Program by the state of Texas places content conditions on productions it help bankroll. Besides the bait of a $22 million budget to lure film, TV, advertising and video game filming, the Lone Star State program also demands that filmmakers who receive incentives can’t depict “Texas or Texans in a negative fashion.” So, in effect, script review and approval is involved. There’s also a North Carolina bill under consideration that would limit tax credits to only those films that have “serious artistic merit” and “general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the citizens of North Carolina.” That amendment was prodded over the North Carolina filming of 2006’s Hounddog, which featured a rape scene involving then 12-year-old Dakota Fanning. In Texas, concern dates back to the 2006 basketball movie Glory Road, which depicted Texas A&M-Commerce back in 1966 when it was known as East Texas State University as racist. The MPAA is warning that not only do these programs violate the First Amendment, they could be challenged in federal court (where taxpayers could end up paying for court costs and attorneys fees). But, really, there’s a long history of money sources putting conditions on their funds. Is this any different than the old-school film financier who expects the moviemakers to hire his girlfriend as the lead? The lesson to be learned is that, with dollars, there are always strings attached. The only good news is that maybe Hollywood’s runaway film production will return to good ol’ liberal California.
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