By TED CARTER
The state agency that recruits movie and television production to Mississippi said Thursday no films or shows in production have pulled out of the state in protest of a new religion-focused law that opponents say legalizes discrimination.
But beyond that, neither the Film Office nor the Mississippi Development Authority that oversees the office has anything to say.
“We will not be providing any additional comments,” said Jeff Rent, spokesman for the MDA, an agency that answers to Gov. Phil Bryant, who signed the intensely controversial legislation Tuesday.
Rent indicated the statement won’t be updated with any new information in coming days on contacts from production companies.
It could be no productions are scheduled for the state. Yahoo Movie’s Wrap column reported March 30 that the Film Office informed it that no productions are on its calendar.
Thursday also brought a statement from the board of the Jackson-based Crossroads Film Society, which completed its annual film festival last weekend. The board said despite state leaders’ insistence on legitimizing discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, it will step up efforts to facilitate and broaden the spectrum of film and to celebrate the art of filmmaking in all its diversity.
The statement accused state leaders of seeking “to institutionalize fear of an open and diverse society.”
The Mississippi Development Authority’s one-sentence response came late Thursday after the Mississippi Business Journal sought to ask the Film Office what the law means for the future of Mississippi’s emerging TV and movie industry.
In Georgia, a religion-focused law deemed anti-gay led film giant Disney and its Marvel subsidiary to threaten withdrawal of all productions in the state and to end any plans for future productions there. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal avoided that outcome by vetoing his state’s legislation.
HB 1523 goes into effect until July 1.
The state Film Office, which administers state incentives for movie and television productions, put the approximate direct instate production spending from 31 film and TV productions at $34 million in 2014. The production provided $4.8 million in wages to Mississippians that year, the Film Office said.
For 2015, 21 productions brought estimated direct instate production spending of $29.2 million and estimated salaries to Mississippi residents totaling $4.6 million.
The economic numbers are based on direct production spending and don’t utilize multipliers or gauge impact, the Film Office says.
However, Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn and the seven co-authors say the law represents protection for circuit court clerks, churches, faith-based organizations and businesses from the consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage.
In a statement accompanying the signing notice Tuesday, Bryant said:
“I am signing HB 1523 into law to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government or its political subdivisions.”
The statement from the Crossroads Film Society board noted the irony of the anti-gay law coming “on the heels of our very diverse, inclusive, and kind-hearted film festival.”
The board called the action by Bryant and the Legislature “confounding,” and said the Film Society is now challenged to stay the course “to celebrate the art of filmmaking in all of its diversity and depth and embrace that diversity in all aspects of our lives.”
Meanwhile, trouble unrelated to the film industry could be ahead for Mississippi. The Rachel Maddow Show reported last Friday night that two federal agencies, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation, are reviewing Mississippi’s HB1523 to determine whether it conflicts with federal discrimination statutes and regulations. If found to be discriminatory, the new law could the state dearly, Maddow reported. “Mississippi could lose billions of federal dollars.”
Maddow also reported the religious focused law allows Mississippi businesses to post signs stating they will refuse service to gay people and others. In debate on the new law, the state Senate rejected an amendment that would have require business as well as circuit court clerks to post clearly visible signs stating their intention to refuse service.
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