“Emancipation,” Antoine Fuqua’s new action thriller that stars Will Smith as an escaped slave on a harrowing journey to the North, held its first screening in Washington D.C. on Saturday as part of Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Legislative Conference (via Deadline). Both Smith and Fuqua spoke at the event, which included representatives from groups such as Congressional Black Caucus, Historically Black College and Universities, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Power Rising, and #WinWithBlackWomen. Early reactions were positive, with attendees taking to social media to praise the film’s ability to turn history into gripping cinema.
I had the pleasure of watching the film #Emancipation and can’t begin to tell how powerful this is for OUR community and OUR history. It’s a story of adversity, of resilience, of love, and of triumph.
Thank you Antoine Fuqua and Will Smith for sharing your gifts!#ThisIsPower
— Derrick Johnson (@DerrickNAACP) October 1, 2022
At a special screening of the film #Emancipation, with director @AntoineFuqua and producer and star Will Smith. This is the first time Will has seen the film with an audience. @appletv @appletvplus pic.twitter.com/RMDGvYIEky
— April is in DC (@ReignOfApril) October 1, 2022
The film does not currently have a release date, but is not expected to come out before 2023. Prior to Will Smith’s now-infamous Oscar slap, it was predicted to be one of 2022’s most formidable awards season contenders. Some even predicted that Smith could win back to back acting Oscars for “King Richard” and “Emancipation.” While Smith’s current status with the Academy likely makes that impossible, the film could still emerge as a serious contender in other categories if critics respond as strongly as the attendees of the initial screening did.
“Emancipation” tells the story of a slave who escapes the swamps of Louisiana and eventually escapes to the North, where he joins the Union Army to fight in the Civil War. The film is based on a true story and was inspired by a photograph of the scars that the real-life slave acquired after being brutally assaulted on a plantation. That historical angle was part of what drew Fuqua to the project.
“It was the first viral image of the brutality of slavery that the world saw,” Fuqua said in 2020. “Which is interesting, when you put it into perspective with today and social media and what the world is seeing, again. You can’t fix the past, but you can remind people of the past and I think we have to, in an accurate, real way. We all have to look for a brighter future for us all, for everyone. That’s one of the most important reasons to do things right now, is show our history. We have to face our truth before we can move forward.”