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24 Will Smith in Emancipation on Apple TV

Will Smith plays a runaway slave in the terrifying “Emancipation”

Cinema

Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Equalizer) takes us back to America’s darkest moments in history during the 19th century with a biopic that feels like a historical drama. In Emancipation, available on Apple TV+ on December 9th, Will Smith plays the role of a black man who escapes his condition as a slave by running away through the swamps of Louisiana, while his torturers hunt him down...

“Emancipation” — Official Trailer | Apple TV+

1. Emancipation, Will Smith’s comeback to the silver screen

 

In 2022, actor Will Smith made his mark twice. First, when he slapped comedian Chris Rock in the middle of the Oscars ceremony after the latter made an inappropriate joke about his wife. Then, when he tearfully collected his Best Actor award for King Richard (2021), a feature film focusing on the tumultuous life of Richard Williams, the father of the world- renowned tennis players Venus and Serena. This year, the Hollywood star will come back on December 9th on Apple TV with Emancipation, a new film by the African American director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer). One might have expected a performance of his favorite actor Denzel Washington, for whom Will Smith has also donned his hat as a producer. Following in the footsteps of Edward Zwick’s Glory (1990), with Denzel Washington at the top of his game, or Steven McQueen’s masterpiece Twelve Years a Slave (2013), Antoine Fuqua takes us back to America’s darkest moments in the 19th century with a biopic that feels like a historical drama. In Emancipation, Will Smith plays the role of Peter, a black man who escapes his condition as a slave by fleeing through the swamps of Louisiana, while his torturers hunt him down... A work that inevitably recalls Roots (1977), a four- episode miniseries telling the story of Kunta Kinté, a man born in Gambia, who was captured, then shipped to America to be sold as a slave. Renamed Toby, he discovers that other American-born slaves don’t know anything about their African origins. After several escape attempts, his masters eventually amputate his leg to prevent him from escaping again...

 

2. A chilling portrait of the 19th century atrocities in America

Emancipation translates four hundred years of slavery contained into one single photograph entitled The Scourged Back. The image is a terrible and conclusive proof, as it reveals the naked and mutilated back of Gordon, now Peter played by Will Smith. This authentic photograph was taken by McPherson & Oliver during a medical examination in a Union Army’s camp along the Mississippi River in April 1863. It was published as a woodcut in the Harper's Weekly, the famous New York political weekly magazine, and contributed to change America’s perception of slavery at the time... Following the Oscars slap scandal, Apple TV hesitated for a long time before agreeing to produce Emancipation with Will Smith, persona non grata, starring in the leading role. However, Antoine Fuqua silenced any controversy in the columns of Vanity Fair: "The film to me is bigger than the moment. Four hundred years of slavery is bigger than one moment. My hope is that people will see it that way and watch the movie ans be swept away with the great performance by Will and all the real hard word that the whole crew did. There have been some really ugly things that have taken place in Hollywood, and we've seen a lot of people get awards that have done really nasty things. I think Apple considered all those things."

 

Emancipation by Antoine Fuqua with Will Smith, December 9th on Apple TV.