Apple has finally set a release date for Will Smith’s high-profile film Emancipation, a film whose release plans were put into question after the actor’s infamous Oscars slap. The film will open in theaters December 2nd and stream on December 9 in time for awards season. Apple also released the first trailer for the film as part of its announcement.
The film, based on a true story, follows Peter (Smith) a runaway slave who journeyed north, outwitting cold-blooded hunters and surviving the unforgiving swamps of Louisiana along the way. After escaping to freedom, Peter joined the Union Army. When he showed his bare back during an army medical examination, photos were taken of the scars from a near-fatal whipping delivered by an overseer on the plantation owned by John and Bridget Lyons. The Independent published the photo, known as The Scourged Back, in May of 1863. It appeared in Harper’s Weekly’s July 4 issue and became indisputable proof of the cruelty and barbarity of slavery in America.
Emancipation was always expected for 2022, but in the wake of the “The Slap,” rumors surfaced Apple was considering pushing it to 2023. The release date news comes as Martin Scorcese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s high profile Killers of the Flower Moon was set for 2023, leaving Apple without an awards contender for the year.
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.”