Emancipation almost didn’t come out this year because of the Will Smith Oscar slap, but its new trailer is here — and it’s stunning.
The Apple film, directed by Training Day veteran Antoine Fuqua, is based on the true story of a man known as “Whipped Peter,” who escaped slavery and whose scars from whippings helped prove the cruelty and inhumanity of his slavers. They became a rallying cry for the abolitionist movement during the Civil War. The man known as Peter — aka Gordon — joined the Union Army to fight the Confederacy.
Emancipation was scheduled to come out this year, but that plan was derailed in March when Smith walked on stage and slapped Chris Rock in the face after the comedian made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, at the Academy Awards. Moments later, Smith won the Oscar for Best Actor for his starring role in King Richard. The actor later released an emotional video apologizing to Rock and his family. But the Oscars banned him from attending the ceremony for 10 years.
Because of its subject matter and the strong resumes of the people involved, Emancipation was seen as an Oscar contender before anyone had seen a moment of footage. But the extended trailer released today highlights a deeply moving performance by Smith as a man who refuses to be broken — even as he races through swamps and takes up arms to defend his freedom. Adopting an accent, Smith packs a lot of emotion into just a few words, notably when he promises his family that he will return to see them again. You can watch the Emancipation trailer here or above.
In a new Vanity Fair interview, Fuqua stood by the decision to release the film this year, even with memories of the slap still fresh.
“Isn’t 400 years of slavery, of brutality, more important than one bad moment?” he said. He also noted “some really ugly things that have taken place” that have taken place in Hollywood in the past, and that “we’ve seen a lot of people get awards that have done some really nasty things.”
Oscar voters may be faced with a big question about whether they can separate the art from the artist.
Written by William N. Collage, the Apple Original Film Emancipation is produced by Will Smith and Jon Mone through Westbrook Studios, Joey McFarland though McFarland Entertainment and Todd Black through Escape Artists. Chris Brigham, Antoine Fuqua, James Lassiter, Heather Washington, Cliff Roberts, Glen Basner and Scott Greenberg are executive producing.
Main image: Will Smith in Emancipation.