The pic, in which Smith plays a runaway slave who embarks on a death-defying 10-day journey to escape his captors through swamps to a safe haven with the Union army, has long been buzzed about. It’s a role that will rival the actor’s Oscar-winning turn this past year as Venus and Serena Williams’ coach/father, Richard Williams, in King Richard.
While Smith’s scandal with Chris Rock at the Oscars put the pic’s release in question earlier this year, a well-received early NAACP-hosted screening in DC paved the way for Emancipation to find its way into a Q4 release in theaters this Friday and on AppleTV+ on Dec. 9.
Talking about how cathartic it is for the Antoine Fuqua-directed movie to finally be unveiled in the wake of a roller coaster year, Smith told Deadline, “When I took this film, I envisioned the potential service it could be to the modern social conversation.
“I thought it would be a necessary reminder of some of the roads we’ve been down as a country in the past to potentially avert those similar paths,” the actor added.
“To have a movie like this, in this time for me, and even this time in my life, is poetic perfection,” he beamed tonight on the red carpet.
In a GQ interview back in September 2021, Smith said, “I’ve always avoided making films about slavery…In the early part of my career … I didn’t want to show black people in that light.”
What made Emancipation different? The pic’s jumping-off point, as Deadline first told you when we reported on the project, was an indelible photo of a slave named Peter, whose back was scarred from whipping. The photo first appeared in The Independent in May 1863, and then in Harper’s Weekly 4 issue.
“The realization for me is that this is a movie not about slavery,” Smith told us tonight, “When I read it, this was a movie about freedom. This was a movie about emancipation.”
“I had seen the picture, but as I got to know Peter and understand some of the experiences of Peter, the way he was able to sustain faith in the heart of greatest unimaginable human atrocities.”
“That’s what attracted me to Peter,” says Smith, “I wanted to be able to study and I wanted to be able to learn and to know how to do that myself.”
Filmmaker Antoine Fuqua beamed during the introduction of the premiere. Also appearing at the premiere were stars Ben Foster, Paul Ben-Victor, and Charmaine Bingwa.