Apple probably thought it was on to a stone-cold awards contender with Antoine Fuqua’s latest, ‘Emancipation’.

With Will Smith starring in the stirring based-on-truth story of 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, it looked like it could be Oscar bait.

But then came Oscar night back in March. And the “slap heard around the world”. You might have heard of it.

For anyone who has been living under a rock, it all went down when Chris Rock took the stage at the Academy Awards to present Best Documentary. He made a number of jokes, including one directed at Jada Pinkett-Smith that referred to her bald head.

Given that Pinkett-Smith has alopecia, the joke was seen in poor taste and Smith, after initially chuckling, then took the stage and slapped Rock. Upon his return to his seat, he shouted, “keep my wife’s mouth out of your f*****g mouth” more than once.

It shocked the audience, and the wider watching world, and Smith returned to the stage later in the evening to collect Best Actor for ‘King Richard’. Yet the ramifications continued well after the night itself.

Smith issued apologies, while Rock mostly talked about it during stand-up shows in the months following. The Academy went the disciplinary route, banning Smith from its events for a decade, but letting him keep his award.

Will Smith stars in Apple's 'Emancipation,' directed by Antoine Fuqua.

Will Smith stars in Apple's 'Emancipation,' directed by Antoine Fuqua.

Which brings us back to ‘Emancipation’, which was announced back in 2020 and quickly snapped up by Apple.

The historical story and triumph of the human spirit must’ve been a big appeal to Apple – and the presence of Smith, especially when he was Oscar-nominated for ‘King Richard’, just added to that.

Yet 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.

Still, there is a lot that is compelling about this one: When Peter showed his bare back during an Army medical examination, photos 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.

“It was the first viral image of the brutality of slavery that the world saw,” Fuqua told Deadline when the movie was originally confirmed. “Which is interesting, when you put it into perspective with today and social media and what the world is seeing, again. You can’t fix the past, but you can remind people of the past and I think we have to, in an accurate, real way. We all have to look for a brighter future for us all, for everyone. That’s one of the most important reasons to do things right now, is show our history. We have to face our truth before we can move forward.”

Facing some hard truths will reach beyond the movie’s narrative.

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.

Will Smith stars in Apple's 'Emancipation,' directed by Antoine Fuqua.

Will Smith stars in Apple's 'Emancipation,' directed by Antoine Fuqua.