Surprise: As rumored courtesy of a New York Times piece that published last month, Apple Original Films’ slavery thriller/drama “Emancipation” is officially set to release this December. Starring Will Smith in his first big screen role post-Oscars slap (production was completed before the incident), “Emancipation” is directed by Antoine Fuqua and will be released theatrically December 2 before streaming on Apple TV+ December 9. Watch the first trailer below.
The status of the movie has been open-ended since Will Smith accosted Chris Rock onstage at the 2022 Academy Awards. But with Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” pushed to next year, “CODA” winner Apple was lacking in a meaty narrative feature Oscar contender this year; “Emancipation” fills the void.
Fuqua’s film already screened over the weekend to positive reactions in Washington, DC from Capitol Hill heavy-hitters and activist groups. The film could make Smith an Oscar contender in the Best Actor and Best Picture categories (he’s a producer), though he’s now banned from attending the ceremony for 10 years.
“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.
“One thing, when I first read the script, I was inspired,” Fuqua told Deadline of the screenplay written by William N. Collage. “For me as a director, doing a film about slavery is daunting. Because you want to get it right and I’d want to make it as truthful and as authentic as I can. What I found is, it was very inspiring to people. Peter’s image from 1863 inspired me to want to make the film and inspired Will to want to make the film. It seemed to inspire the audience similarly; they clapped and cheered afterward. That was the thing I felt most moved by.”
The cast includes Ben Foster, Charmaine Bingwa, Gilbert Owuor, and Mustafa Shakir.
As for the Will Smith of it all, Fuqua told the outlet, “Will Smith is a great guy. I was with him for a couple of years, making this movie. He is a wonderful person, an amazing partner and he did an amazing job on this movie. Chris Rock’s a good guy, I know Chris as well…and I just pray it works out for them as friends, and we can move forward.”