“She could not get over the look of the film and how it felt,” Smith said.
Rihanna attended a private screening of the feature in October 2022 with partner A$AP Rocky, Tyler Perry, Dave Chappelle, and other A-listers.
“The thing that’s great with Black people is they talk to the screen the whole time, so you don’t have to ask people’s opinion,” Smith added. “So, I didn’t have to ask anybody’s opinion from the room.”
The “King Richard” star noted that “Emancipation” is more timely now than ever, saying, “I feel like a lot of the patterns are starting to repeat themselves in America and the world today. So, in terms of the timing, it felt like it was time for a reminder that we not go down some of the same paths.”
“Emancipation” stars Smith as Peter, 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” that showed Peter’s bare back mutilated by a whipping, contributed to growing public opposition to slavery.
“Emancipation” producer Joey McFarland was recently criticized for collecting the original “Whipped Peter” photography, among other slave photos.
Director Fuqua addressed why the film should not be viewed in terms of Smith’s outburst against Oscar presenter Chris Rock earlier this year.
“The film to me is bigger than that moment,” Fuqua told Vanity Fair. “Four hundred years of slavery is bigger than one moment. 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.”