AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - Directors of the Texas Film Commission refused to give customary tax breaks to the makers of the film "Machete Kills" because the movie presents a sympathetic picture of immigrants and Mexican police, the production company claims in court.
Machete Productions sued five members and former members of the Texas Film Commission, in Travis County Court.
The commission oversees taxpayer funded incentives to encourage the production of movies in Texas.
"Machete Kills," a sequel to the 2010 action comedy "Machete," written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, was "perceived as glorifying the role of a Mexican Federale (Mexican Federal Police Officer) and sympathizing with immigrants," and the commission was concerned with "political fallout" if it provided public support, the production company claims.
Defendant David Morales, Gov. Rick Perry's general counsel and a former director of the Film Commission, issued a letter denying plaintiff's grant application because of "inappropriate content," but provided no explanation of what the commission found unacceptable, according to the lawsuit.
The production company claim that statutory provisions permitting the commission to deny incentives based on "offensive" and "anti-Texas" content are invalid because such content-based criteria violate the First Amendment and Article I, Section 8 of the Texas Constitution.
The Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program was created in 2007 to promote economic development and bring jobs to Texas. To qualify, an applicant must (a) spend a minimum of $250,000 in Texas, (b) hire Texas residents as a minimum of 70 percent of its production crew, actors and extras, and (c) film at least 60 percent of its project in Texas.
Machete Productions claims it would create 531 Texas jobs and spend almost $10 million in Texas.
The commission is allowed to consider "general standards of decency" in determining whether to fund a proposal.
The commission denied a grant application for the original "Machete" film in 2010 in the wake of political controversy, including a description of the film as the "equivalent of a Hispanic 'Birth of a Nation.'"
Before denying the "Machete" application, the commission had rarely, if ever, turned down an application based on "inappropriate" content and had, in fact, awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars for the "slasher" film Friday the 13th.
Machete Productions seeks declaratory judgment and an injunction ordering the Film Commission to grant its application for incentive program funding and declaring invalid the portions of state law that permit denial of an application because of "inappropriate content" or "content that portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion," while considering "general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the citizens of Texas."
The producer also seeks damages from the individual director defendants to the maximum amount that will be indemnified by the state.