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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Texas Court Tosses ‘Machete’ Funding Fight

AUSTIN (CN) - Texas officials did not exceed their authority when they reneged on promised film incentives for Robert Rodriguez's action film "Machete" after it was produced, a Texas appeals court ruled.

A three-judge panel with the Third District Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas Film Commission and its director Heather Page on Friday.

Rodriguez's production company, Machete's Chop Shop Inc., sued in Travis County District Court in July 2013.

Rodriguez's company said its application for the Texas Moving Image Industry Program was approved in May 2009 and that former commission director Bob Hudgins verified the film's script complied with requirements to not include inappropriate content or show Texans "in a negative fashion."

"Machete" stars Danny Trejo as a gun-toting and motorcycle-riding former Mexican federal agent who is tricked into attempting to assassinate a corrupt Texas senator, portrayed by Robert De Niro.

The appearance of an illegal Mexican outlaw behind the assassination fuels a conspiracy in the film behind the senator's anti-immigrant agenda.

Rodriguez's production company was induced to spend $8 million on the film in Texas. It said that after a trailer for the film was released in May 2010, anti-immigration activists "inundated the Texas Film Commission with letters, faxes, emails, phone calls and other communications, all claiming that the content was inappropriate. Content that was not available to the general public," the complaint stated.

The commission told Rodriguez's company eight months later the film no longer qualified for a grant because it portrayed Texas or Texans in "a negative fashion" and the decision was ratified by defendant Page.

Writing for the three-judge panel, Justice Scott Field concluded that state law gives the commission discretion to deny the grant money at any stage of the application process if it decides the film portrays Texas or Texans negatively.

"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," the 23-page opinion stated. "One can easily imagine that a written script that did not seem inappropriate and did not appear to portray Texas or Texans in a negative fashion on paper might take on those attributes when converted into a film in which those words are spoken by actors and accompanied by all the other aspects that compose a feature film."

Field said the discretion granted "is not only reasonable but is the meaning undoubtedly intended by the Legislature"

when it granted the commission power to deny applications for inappropriate content or for showing Texas or Texans in a negative light.

The panel also concluded the production company's claim for declaratory judgment is moot, as sovereign immunity bars claims to invalidate the commission's denial of the grant.

A division of the Governor's Office, the Texas Film Commission did not respond to an email message from Courthouse News requesting comment.

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