Historical dramas are often seen as award bait, and you can certainly understand why Apple might leap on the idea of one starring Will Smith, who, when he signed on, was Oscar nominated for ‘King Richard’.
But while he did end up winning the trophy, that happened after he marched on stage at this year’s Oscars, and slappedChris Rock, who had included a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Which then led to a whole lot of fallout – video apologies from the actor, sanctions from the Academy, which has banned him from attending events for a decade, and some hefty tarnishing for the career of a popular performer.
Which means that now the company faces the uphill struggle of releasing the movie in the wake of the Academy Awards incident, with a star who couldn’t collect his Oscar even if he’s nominated or wins. Though some predicted that Apple might delay the release until next year to let things cool down, the team behind ‘Emancipation’ has clearly decided to push ahead, including a new trailer.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua from William N. Collage’s script ‘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 Peter showing his bare back during an Army medical examination, upon which pictures were taken of the scars from a whipping delivered by an overseer on the plantation owned by John and Bridget Lyons that nearly killed the slave. When the photo known as “the scourged back” was published by the Independent in May 1863 and then ‘Harper’s Weekly’s July 4 issue, it became indisputable proof of the cruelty and barbarity of slavery in America. The photo reached around the world, and legend has it that it made countries like France refuse to buy cotton from the South. It solidified the cause of abolitionists and prompted many free blacks to join the Union Army.
And the main character’s struggles didn’t end with human challenges – there was nature, red in tooth and claw, to be faced – “there are many ways to die in a swamp,” one of Peter’s fellow slaves reminds him. And that includes alligators just waiting to make a snack of unwitting trespassers in their territory.
This new trailer is full of such striking imagery, with Fuqua and cinematographer Robert Richardson shooting with a stark, almost sepia tone. Smith, meanwhile, has sunk deep into the role of Peter.
With Ben Foster, Charmaine Bingwa, Gilbert Owuor, Mustafa Shakir, Steven Ogg, Grant Harvey, Ronnie Gene Bivens, Jayson Warner Smith also in the cast, the movie will be in theaters on December 2nd and lands on Apple TV+ on December 9th.