Confederate flag spurs call for filming boycott

NAACP asks Hollywood to avoid state, but lawmaker says matter closed
By Tim Smith and Dan Hoover • STAFF WRITERS • July 16, 2008

The NAACP has targeted South Carolina’s film industry as an economic pressure point to force the removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds, but a top legislative leader said Tuesday the 2000 compromise won’t be reopened.

Lonnie Randolph, state NAACP president, told The Greenville News the organization has asked representatives of the motion picture industry to join in its economic sanctions against the state until the flag is removed.

He said NAACP officials met with actors, actresses and other representatives of the industry last weekend to "get their input and their support in helping with this cause."

Randolph said the responses from representatives of the industry have been "very positive." He didn’t identify the participants or the location of the meeting.

State Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, the Senate president pro tempore, told The News there is "no driving emotion (in the Legislature) that I know of to reopen" the 2000 compromise that moved the flag from the Statehouse dome.

However, state Rep. Leon Howard, D-Columbia, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said, "It’s on the minds of a lot of lawmakers. We don’t think (the flag) should be there."

Meanwhile, Gov. Mark Sanford said Tuesday he has no plans to get involved in the issue.

"Everybody has a different perspective. It is a deeply dividing and complex issue that we’re not going to try and open and re-examine. Somebody is going to have to place a tremendous amount of political capital to pry open a compromise. This administration is not going to be doing that," he said.

The square, silk battle flag now flies on a pole near the Confederate Soldiers’ Monument at the front of the Statehouse near a busy Columbia intersection. Its location was the result of heated debate and eventual legislative compromise in 2000 to remove the banner from the Statehouse dome where it had flown since the 1960s.

The NAACP rejected the compromise and has maintained a tourism boycott of the state.

The NAACP rejected any compromise that would leave the flag on public property, although most members of the Legislative Black Caucus agreed to it as the best deal they could get. An estimated 46,000 people marched in Columbia on Martin Luther King Day in 2000 to demand the flag’s removal from state property.

McConnell said that with the compromise and new concerns arising since then, "The mainstream has moved on."

He said it would take a two-thirds vote of the 46 senators to change the 8-year-old legislation "and we can barely get two-thirds on when to go to lunch."

Asked about the possibility of an NAACP-inspired Hollywood boycott of filmmaking in the state, McConnell said that "to inflict economic harm in hard times … is mean-spirited."

Randolph denied the sanction being sought is "mean-spirited."

"Our history has never been mean," he said. "We don’t do mean things. We don’t have a Confederate approach to solving problems. The NAACP is a civil rights and human rights organization.

"Never have we bombed, murdered, killed, or maimed anybody. Never held anybody hostage on a plantation. In 100 years, this organization has a history of promoting democracy for all human beings."

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, wasn’t available for comment.

Sanford told reporters he knows the flag issue is a meaningful one for the NAACP, but he said he has other priorities for the balance of his administration.

The governor said he wants to "focus on things we think will have a big difference" in the remaining 30 months of his final term.

Howard called Sanford’s comments "unfortunate." "I think the governor’s comments are unreasonable," he said. "That’s through the eyes of a very wealthy Caucasian male. He can’t see it the way African-Americans see it."

Randolph said, "Symbolism in South Carolina is realism," adding that the state has a white supremacist past and "we still have deep pockets of that in South Carolina today."

He said the state’s Constitution represents a white supremacist point of view.

"The way we educate our children in South Carolina is a white supremacist educational approach," he said. "The way we pay people in South Carolina is a white supremacist approach …. Others need to see South Carolina as a place that says we respect all people."

State officials said Monday that tourism has steadily increased since 2000, and McConnell described the boycott’s impact as no more than a "burp in a whirlwind."

Dozens of movies and made-for-television films have been done in whole or in part in South Carolina, from "Deliverance" in 1972 along the Chattooga River and Lake Jocassee to "The Big Chill" in Beaufort in 1983 to "Leatherheads" in Greenville and Anderson last year.

Marion Edmonds, spokesman for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said the economic impact of filmmaking in South Carolina could be "tens of millions of dollars" in a given year.

But Edmonds couldn’t provide specifics. Because the state Film Commission completed its legislatively mandated transfer to PRT from the Department of Commerce only two weeks ago, a yardstick for measuring the fiscal impact has yet to be developed, he said.

Donna Reeves, spokeswoman for the 120,000-member Screen Actors Guild, said she had no knowledge of NAACP-Hollywood discussions or whether SAG might become involved.

SAG members work in motion pictures, television, commercials, industrials, video games, Internet and all new media formats, according to its Web site.

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