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Will Smith: I ‘Understand’ If Audiences Don’t Want to See ‘Emancipation’ Post-Oscars Slap

"My deepest hope is that my actions don’t penalize my team," Smith said.

EMANCIPATION, from left: Will Smith, Ben Foster, 2022. ph: Quantrall Colbert / © Apple TV+ / Courtesy Everett Collection

“Emancipation”

©Apple TV/Courtesy Everett Collection

Will Smith knows audiences might not be ready to see him onscreen after the 2022 Oscars slap.

Following Smith attacking presenter Chris Rock and his subsequent barring from attending the Academy Awards for the next decade, the Best Actor winner addressed his latest role in slavery biopic “Emancipation.” The Antoine Fuqua-directed film premieres in theaters December 2, followed by an Apple TV+ release December 9.

“I completely understand — if someone is not ready, I would absolutely respect that and allow them their space to not be ready,” Smith told journalist Kevin McCarthy while promoting the film. “My deepest concern is my team – Antoine has done what I think is the greatest work of his entire career.”

Smith continued, “The people on this team have done some of the best work of their entire careers, and my deepest hope is that my actions don’t penalize my team. At this point, that’s what I’m working for. I’m hoping that the material – the power of the film, the timeliness of the story – I’m hoping that the good that can be done would open people’s hearts at a minimum to see and recognize and support the incredible artists in and around this film.”

While “Emancipation” is already getting awards season buzz, director Fuqua recently told Vanity Fair that the film should not be viewed in terms of Smith’s outburst against Oscar presenter Rock earlier this year.

“The film to me is bigger than that moment,” Fuqua said. “Four hundred years of slavery is bigger than one moment.”

He added, “My hope is that people will see it that way and watch the movie and be swept away with the great performance by Will and all the real hard work that the whole crew did.”

“Emancipation” tells the triumphant story of Peter (Smith), a man who escapes from slavery, relying on his wits, unwavering faith and deep love for his family to evade cold-blooded hunters and the unforgiving swamps of Louisiana on his quest for freedom. The film is inspired by the 1863 photos of “Whipped Peter” taken during a Union Army medical examination that first appeared in Harper’s Weekly. One image, known as “The Scourged Back” and showing Peter’s bare back mutilated by a whipping, contributed to growing public opposition to slavery.

Smith also produces the film through his Westbrook Studios company.

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