Make Texas Look Good or Kiss Those Incentive Funds Goodbye
Like a lot of people, some Texas officials didn't like the 2010 movie Machete. Which isn't exactly surprising, considering the movie's about a violent, knife-wielding Mexican federalist who tries to assassinate an immigrant-hating Texas senator. So when governor-appointed members of the Texas Film Commission saw Machete, they pulled the plug on millions of dollars in grant funding the state had already approved in exchange for filming the flick in Texas. The commission's reasoning: The movie was mean to us. Or, put another way, Machete served up a “negative portrayal of Texas or Texans.”
On Friday, the Texas Third Court of Appeals ruled that the commission had the authority to make that content-discriminating decision.
For almost six years, the commission has not said why, upon viewing the film, it changed its mind about awarding the filmmakers the money after they had already spent some $8 million on production. The commission had originally approved the grant money the first time it read over the Machete script — which is why producer Rick Schwartz has argued that, since the script didn't change, there was no legitimate basis for suddenly denying them the money.
Some guesses: Perhaps the commission wasn't impressed by Robert De Niro's cowboy hat or his Southern drawl as he played a corrupt Texas senator with lines like “Every time an illegal dances across our border, it is an act of aggression against our sovereign state — an overt act of terrorism.” Or maybe it was the part where a “border vigilante” shoots down a pregnant Mexican woman so that her baby isn't born on U.S. soil. (It should be noted that, in real life, it's actually state troopers who shoot immigrants...from helicopters.) Perhaps what really miffed members of the Texas Film Commission was the part where the main dude, Machete, played by Danny Trejo, discovers that the same immigrant-hating Texas senator was in cahoots with the cartel.
Or just maybe, since the commission does not define the boundaries of what it considers “inappropriate,” there were too many bare boobs. Schwartz, who has claimed "anti-immigration activists" influenced the commission's decision, argued that the commission's vague criteria for how it decides to deny a grant were unconstitutional. (Director Robert Rodriguez, on the other hand, has said Schwartz's lawsuit is "completely without grounds.") This is apparently the only standard the commission considers when deciding whether or not to fund a project: “In determining whether to act on or deny a grant application, the [O]ffice shall consider general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs of the citizens of Texas.”
Considering the script originally passed the test, the film's characters — who included Jessica Alba (an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent), Lindsay Lohan (a hitman's daughter) and Steven Seagal (a cartel leader), among others — must have been very convincing. As the Court of Appeals explained, “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.'”
Here in Texas, state officials apparently do better with pictures.