Will Smith is currently filming the slavery drama “Emancipation” in New Orleans. Directed by Antoine Fuqua and backed by Apple with a reported $120 million budget, the film stars Smith as a slave named Peter who flees a Louisiana plantation after being nearly whipped to death. The film tracks Peter’s journey north, where he eventually joins the Union Army and returns to the south to save those he left behind. Smith has never tackled slavery in a film before, and he told GQ magazine that was by design.
“I’ve always avoided making films about slavery,” Smith said. “In the early part of my career…I didn’t want to show Black people in that light. I wanted to be a superhero. So I wanted to depict Black excellence alongside my white counterparts. I wanted to play roles that you would give to Tom Cruise.”
It wasn’t until an offer came in from Quentin Tarantino to play the eponymous character in “Django Unchained” that Smith seriously considered joining a slavery-centered project for the first time. Smith famously turned Tarantino down, telling GQ, “I didn’t want to make a slavery film about vengeance.”
“It was about the creative direction of the story,” Smith previously told The Hollywood Reporter about skipping “Django.” “To me, it’s as perfect a story as you could ever want: a guy that learns how to kill to retrieve his wife that has been taken as a slave. That idea is perfect. And it was just that Quentin and I couldn’t see [eye to eye]. I wanted to make that movie so badly, but I felt the only way was, it had to be a love story, not a vengeance story.”
Smith told GQ that he finally decided to tackle slavery on film in “Emancipation” because the film had the angle he wanted out of “Django.” The actor said, “This was one that was about love and the power of Black love. And that was something that I could rock with. We were going to make a story about how Black love makes us invincible.”
Apple has not announced a release date yet for “Emancipation.” Filming on the drama got delayed after producers decided to scrap plans to shoot the project in Georgia due to the state’s voter restriction laws.