by Coop Cooper
During its creation, I knew very little about Mississippi’s new law titled HB 1523. I didn’t have a strong opinion over the new laws cropping up in Southern states aimed at protecting Christians from an ‘allegedly’ belligerent homosexual community threatening lawsuits for not being allowed access to certain restrooms or demanding services that might go against someone’s personal/religious beliefs. When the film industry began boycotting North Carolina because of their newly passed law, that got my attention. When the Georgia governor vetoed a similar bill due to threats the profitable film industry would pull up stakes and leave the state, I felt there was a lesson learned from North Carolina’s folly… It’s foolish to jeopardize a state’s economy by passing a controversial law in an attempt to solve a nebulous moral problem.
I had hoped Governor Bryant would learn from that mistake and veto HB 1523, but it would appear I miscalculated his priorities. As a result, the national/international backlash has begun and out-of-state film productions (as well as other industries and events) are pulling out of Mississippi.
California has made their own mistakes with the film industry in the last couple of decades. The state’s thirst for overregulation, unions and taxes drove out much of the motion picture business, crippling their profitable monopoly in that industry. In the mid-2000’s those productions began finding homes in North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana and was beginning to gain a significant foothold in Mississippi due to its attractive tax incentives, right-to-work statuses and business-friendly locations. Bringing film productions to Mississippi is something I have worked for and advocated ever since moving back to the state nearly a decade ago and I am very disheartened to see it all come crashing down with the stroke of a pen.
As for what HB 1523 was allegedly designed for, passing it was a Pyrrhic victory for its supporters. For a mere handful of cases this law would have been applied to, the backlash against it will cost the state billions in revenue from tourism, filmmaking and other industries whose decision-makers either don’t agree with the law, or don’t want to do business in a state where the legislature and governor regularly put industry and economic development at risk in favor of their own personal pet peeves.
I’ve heard two types of extreme reactions to the boycotts from fellow Mississippians. One is self-righteous: “We don’t need them. We’ve gotten along fine without meddling outsiders and I’m proud of our Governor for sticking up for his beliefs, no matter the consequences.” The other is self-loathing: “We deserved this. Mississippi has been such a miserable pit of discrimination for so long, the racist people and the sick government should feel the sting of social justice, no matter the consequences.” I don’t particularly like either one of these attitudes because they are both spiteful and resigned to defeat. Should we ignore the fact that a boycott will hurt the poor, the business owners and good citizens working for progress far more than the politicians who passed the law? Should we accept that people are laughing at us because the website Funny or Die hijacked an upbeat and wonderfully-done Mississippi tourism video and altered it into a despicable symbol of hate? We can’t lay down and accept this. It is our duty to get over our bad attitudes, protect our economy and convince the world we are better than they make us out to be.
Whether the intent of HB 1523 was to discriminate or not is no longer an issue. The perception of discrimination has already done public relations damage and no amount of clarifying or arguing can reverse that. If the Supreme Court strikes it down (which they probably will), the history books of the future will align it with past prejudices such as segregation and slavery and once again, Mississippi will be forefront in that unenviable spotlight.
As for what it could do to Clarksdale: Like it or not, we depend on tourism now. At least one band cancelled their appearance at Juke Joint Festival this weekend due to the law and others may do the same. Some tourists who have visited us in the past now say they might never come back. If any of you enjoyed the filming of the TV show pilot “The Source” at Ground Zero on April 6th with Cedric Burnside, Shannon McNally and Dexter Allen… Those kinds of events may not happen very often anymore or may dry up altogether. Believe it or not, I’ve made the case that Clarksdale is the most filmed city in Mississippi (largely due to blues documentaries). We should want to protect and promote that, not just for the new money it brings to town, but also because we should proud of anything positive happening here. We should be far more concerned about the larger picture and losing billions than worrying about the enormously remote chance of anyone in the state getting sued by a gay couple for refusing to bake them a wedding cake.