The project marks Smith's first major film since the infamous Oscars slap.
Apple held the first screening for Will Smith and Antoine Fuqua’s upcoming film, Emancipation, on Saturday in Washington D.C. Though the fate of the project seemingly hung in the balance following Smith’s now-infamous Oscars slap, the screening indicates Apple is looking to release it soon.
At the 2022 Oscars, Smith walked onstage during the ceremony and surprised the world when he slapped presenter Chris Rock, who had made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Since then, Smith has resigned from the Academy, some of his projects have been put on hold, and he has apologized to Rock, Rock’s family, his fellow Oscar winners and more.
Apple and NAACP hosted the Emancipation screening during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 51st Annual Legislative Conference for representatives from the Congressional Black Caucus, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the Divine 9 (Historically Black Fraternities and Sororities), National Council of Negro Women, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Power Rising and #WinWithBlackWomen, among other social impact leaders.
It was followed by a conversation about the film with Fuqua, Will Smith and Mary Elliott, curator of American Slavery at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, moderated by politics and culture commentator Angela Rye.
“Throughout my career, I’ve turned down many films that were set in slavery,” Smith said at the screening. “I never wanted to show us like that. And then this picture came along. And this is not a film about slavery. This is a film about freedom. This is a film about resilience. This is a film about faith.”
He continued, “This is a film about the heart of a man — what could be called the first viral image. Cameras had just been created, and the image of whipped Peter went around the world. It was a rallying cry against slavery, and this was a story that exploded and blossomed in my heart that I wanted to be able to deliver to you in a way that only Antoine Fuqua could deliver.”
Based on a true story, Emancipation follows Peter (Smith), who runs away from his plantation in search of his family, outwitting cold-blooded hunters and surviving the Louisiana swamps along the way. Peter eventually joins the Union Army. During a medical examination, his bare back, which had scars on it from a near-fatal whipping at the hands of his former plantation’s overseer, was photographed. The Independent published the photo, undoubtedly proving the cruelty and barbarity of slavery in America.
Fuqua directed and executive produced Emancipation from a script by William N. Collage. The film is produced by Smith and Jon Mone through Westbrook Studios, Joey McFarland through McFarland Entertainment and Todd Black through Escape Artists. Chris Brigham, James Lassiter, Heather Washington, Cliff Roberts, Glen Basner and Scott Greenberg are executive producing.