Oh, Please Don't Mess With Soft, Vulnerable, Sensitive Texas

Lots of state and local governments offer you tax credits if you film within their borders. Though cynics say that this is just a way for government to favor its friends, some people claim it makes good economic sense. Film productions bring money to town, and employ hotels, caterers, sexually transmitted disease clinics, bail bondsmen, aromatherapists, gerbil veterinarians, and thus and such.

Some states and localities have elaborate requirements to qualify for the tax credit. That's not what distinguishes Texas. What distinguishes Texas, apparently, is that to get a movie tax credit, you have to ensure that your movie doesn't hurt their feelings. And apparently Machete did.

The Texas Film Commission has denied incentives for "Machete," the controversial immigration-related feature film from Robert Rodriguez's Austin-based Troublemaker Studios.

In a brief, formal letter dated Dec. 1 and released Wednesday by Katherine Cesinger , a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Film Commission cited part of a state code that says requests for film incentives can be denied "because of inappropriate content or content that portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion."

Big Shiny Robot speculates about what got the Texans' panties in a wad:

s for the offensive part of it, I’m sure you could argue that there are portions people may find offensive. But the offense here seems to be more political rather than content-based. I didn’t hear conservative critics harrumphing about the abundance of boobies, using intestines to rappel out a hospital window, cutting numerous limbs off, or the general pervasive sex and violence of the film.

But because there was a political undercurrent- one which discussed issues surrounding illegal immigration, made a mockery of bigoted politicians and vigalantes, and proudly declared (from the top of a taco truck) “We didn’t cross the border- the border crossed us!!” I can see how that would be threatening to the small minds which inhabit many areas of our state government.

Someone with more energy than I have today ought to do a First Amendment analysis of Texas' rather arbitrary content-based system for granting or denying tax credits.

Now, I understand the inherent goodness of being careful of the feelings and sensibilities of the delicate. I have seven- and four-year-old daughters! But I have to ask this: what "portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion" in a more pronounced way: a silly action movie, or a state government that denies tax credits to movies that fail adequately to congratulate the state and its inhabitants for how awesome they are?

Stay strong down there, Lone Star.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Dustin says

    "But I have to ask this: what “portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion” in a more pronounced way: a silly action movie, or a state government that denies tax credits to movies that fail adequately to congratulate the state and its inhabitants for how awesome they are?"


    Um, Machete is worse than a silly action movie. It's incredibly racist.

    So forcing Texans to pay for it would cast us in a worse light than following the damn law. The makers of this movie lied about their movie when they agreed to the terms of this grant, so … again, lawlessness would also cast Texas in a negative light. There's nothing wrong with grants meant to help cast Texas in a positive light, and there is no first amendment problem with our people excluding something that goes as far as this movie does.

    Let's see if the courts prove me wrong (they absolutely won't).

  2. Old Geezer says

    C'mon, Ken. Leave them alone. This is the state that wants to eliminate Evolution from the science curriculum and any reference to Tomas Jefferson from the history curriculum of their schools. They can't help it if they're stuck in the Dark Ages.

  3. Joshua says

    So Dustin, there's absolutely nothing wrong with deliberately spending state (as opposed to federal) tax dollars on propaganda produced for American audiences? Brilliant.

    Also, it's not "our people" – it's officials, who should not be exercising arbitrary authority over speech.

  4. Mitch says

    Thinking back to my Con Law classes, I think that Texas has a huge First Amendment problem with this one. If Texas wants to "spend" money to fund pro-Texas propaganda, that is not a problem. If Texas wants to decline to "spend" money to fund anti-Texas propaganda, that is also not a problem. But when Texas creates a generalized tax break for films shot in Texas, and then tries to condition that tax break on the content of the film, you run smack into a First Amendment violation. Although you might think that subdizing a film through a direct cash outlay is no different from subdizing a film through a tax break, the courts do not agree with you.

  5. Rich Rostrom says

    So… Let's say Joe want to make a movie in Hawaii, and the state of Hawaii has a tax credit for shooting movies in Hawaii. The movie is a gentle romantic comedy, in which the protagonists enjoy the amenities of Hawaii's resort hotels and tropical beaches. In other words, a tacit advertisement for Hawaii's tourist trade. Hawaii gives him the credit.

    Now Tom wants to make a movie in Hawaii, and requests the same tax credit. Tom's movie is a gritty thriller, about a man who goes to Hawaii to find his missing sister, and discovers an appalling "underworld": dingy hotels maintained by enslaved illegal aliens, meth-tweaking native Hawaiian goons, sinister Oriental crime bosses, white girls kidnapped and sold to pimps in China, and corrupt local cops complicit in the whole mess. And just for a subplot, the protagonist's buddy collapses and nearly dies, apparently poisoned, but it turns out to be coincidental food poisoning due to filthy conditions in the restaurant kitchen, and a camera with key photos that disappears was coincidentally stolen by the petty thieves that infest the hotels. And for some strange reason the state doesn't want to give Tom that credit… How unfair of them.

    Texas does not condition the tax break on the content of the film, except in one aspect: the film must not attack Texas. Is that really a First Amendment problem?

  6. Old Geezer says

    "Is that really a First Amendment problem?" Well, of course it is. An "attack" on Texas is only possible through the "content." You can't offer tax breaks solely to put forth the State's particular view of itself or those pesky "others." There is a difference between investing in a movie and giving tax breaks to bring jobs to the State.

  7. says

    The question is not only whether "don't attack" is a problem. The question is also whether the vague and ambiguous standard “portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion”, applied in a discretionary fashion without clear standards by government officials, is a problem. So when you say "Texas does not condition the tax break on the content of the film, except in one aspect: the film must not attack Texas.", I respectfully disagree. I think Texas conditions the tax break on some government official or committee believing, based on their discretion, that the film does not "portray Texas or Texans in a negative fashion," which means — pretty much whatever they want it to mean.

  8. FireTiger says

    I saw the preview and the “We didn’t cross the border- the border crossed us!!" scene. My primary thought was it succinctly depicted the very real ignorance of history that a number of Americans suffer from.