Oklahoma City – Despite allegations of sexual impropriety on the part of John Scamehorn, the Oklahoma Film and Music office is not planning on changing eligibility guidelines for those receiving taxpayer rebates for films produced in Oklahoma, said chief information officer Leslie Blair.
Scamehorn’s film. “Pax Masculina,” received $73,000 from the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program, she said — roughly 35 to 37 percent of the film’s total budget. The reason for the subsidies for movies produced here is the economic impact such movies have in Oklahoma, she said. “We feel like there is an excellent return on the rebate program,’’ Blair said.
The Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission has concluded the program is not effective, and that it should be allowed to sunset in 2024.
The film office gave roughly $4 million in rebates for a movie produced by a company affiliated with Harvey Weinstein, she confirmed.
Oklahoma’s Tax Incentive Evaluation Commission (The Dank Commission) has reported that motion picture subsidies do not seem to spark significant economic activity. That Commission has recommended the program should be allowed to sunset in 2024.
Some critics have said the tax-financed subsidy program should be allowed to sunset.
Scamehorn, an emeritus professor of engineering and arts donor to the University of Oklahoma, is accused of sexual improprieties by nearly three dozen women connected to his work at the University of Oklahoma.
The story broke early this month in The Daily, the OU campus newpaper, which has continued to report details of the allegations and investigatory follow-up.
The Norman Transcript has also reported on the situation, including a former OU faculty member who said the university’s response to the allegations years ago contributed to her resignation from the School of Drama ()U.
Scamehorn has denied wrongdoing in written statements, but The City Sentinel could not reach him for comment.
The Oklahoma Film and Music Office did not receive any complaints about Scamehorn during production of his film, “Pax Masculina,’’ said Blair.
She said she did not know where, or when or to whom the movie was shown.
There are no character or behavioral standards or requirements of those who produce movies here in Oklahoma but, movies cannot contain child pornography or obscene material, Blair said. There is a lengthy set of financial and reporting requirements for recipients of taxpayer dollars from the film office.
Blair said she was aware of the allegations surrounding Scamehorn. “The film and music office put does not condone any form of harassment or a hostile environment,’’ Blair said.
Movies produced by people of questionable repute are one reason it is bad idea to provide taxpayer subsidies for such activities, said Byron Schlomach, Director for the 1889 Institute.
“Risking taxpayer money in commercial ventures not only interferes with market processes that have proven themselves the clearest road to prosperity devised by man, but it inevitably leads to taxpayers being forced to subsidize activities they find repugnant,’’ said Schlomach.
“That can be anything from distasteful people who make them or supporting development in ways and places taxpayers would not otherwise support.’’
Schlomach added, “We cannot always know that individuals acting in an official capacity will make wise or generally beneficial decisions for taxpayers. For this reason, it is particularly unwise to use taxpayers’ hard-earned money for unnecessary purposes like subsidizing the film industry, or any other industry for that matter.”
A spokesman for Americans for Prosperity agreed. “Sadly this scandal, like many others in government, just underscores what can happen when lawmakers and bureaucrats lose their respect for hard-earned taxpayer dollars,” said Joey Magana, deputy state director at Americans for Prosperity (Oklahoma).
“We must start rebuilding a culture of appreciation and respect for the taxpayer with every dollar sent to the state capitol. When you lose sight of that, it’s a lot easier for the state to misspend, misappropriate and abuse the responsibilities set before them: to spend our tax dollars wisely.”
Another critical perspective came from Trent England, a vice president at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). He told The City Sentinel:
“What’s interesting to me about the whole thing, is it’s not the biggest area of waste in Oklahoma government. One of those the film office supported was ‘Pax Masculina.’ It’s so weird… Its super violent, it’s focused on scantily clad women. It’s a short film that was not made to be seen in theaters.”
England believes films such this qualify as little more than a “short hobby film.’’ England pointed out that the film office also subsidized a Harvey Weinstein movie to the tune of $4 million. So now, the state of Oklahoma has two players accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, while producing movies subsidized by state taxpayers.
England asked, through this reporter, the film office this question: “Why don’t you do something proactively to make sure this doesn’t happen again, especially since it’s happened on your watch with taxpayer dollars.
“Oklahomans have been subsidizing movies that are not for Oklahomans. They’re not creating a film industry in Oklahoma. The only time we hear about it is when somebody is accused of at least extremely boorish behavior.”
In conclusion, England asked, “Why should Oklahomans make Harvey Weinstein richer?”
NOTE: Stacy Martin, former editor of The City Sentinel newspaper in Oklahoma City, is an independent journalist. This story is expanded from a version also appeared at ocpathink.org, the website of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.