The Academy Award winner, 54, participated in a Q&A about the film after a a special screening in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, October 1. The conversation also included Antoine Fuqua, the movie’s director, as well as Mary Elliott, curator of American slavery at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
“Throughout my career, I’ve turned down many films that were set in slavery,” the Men in Black star said at the event, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”
Based on a true story, Emancipation is about an enslaved man named Peter who escapes from a Louisiana plantation and joins the Union Army during the Civil War. Peter — whose real name was Gordon — was the subject of a famous 1863 photograph that showed his back heavily scarred from beatings he received while he was enslaved.
“This is a film about the heart of a man — what could be called the first viral image,” Smith reportedly said on Saturday. “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.”
Apple announced on Monday, October 3, that Emancipation will premiere in theaters on December 2 before arriving on Apple TV+ one week later. The film’s release date had been up in the air in the aftermath of the Oscars, where Smith slapped Rock, 57.
After the incident, the Academy barred the Independence Day actor from attending any of the organization’s events for the next 10 years. The Philadelphia native is still eligible for Oscar nominations and wins, but he will not be able to attend if he scores a nod before 2032.
In July, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air alum shared an emotional apology video via Instagram, claiming that he reached out to discuss the slap with Rock.
“The message that came back is that he’s not ready to talk,” the Will author alleged. “And when he is, he will reach out. So I will say to you, Chris, I apologize to you. My behavior was unacceptable and I’m here whenever you’re ready to talk. … I’m trying not to think of myself as a piece of s–t.”
The King Richard star also apologized to the comedian’s mother. “I saw an interview that Chris’ mother did and, you know, that was just one of the things about that moment, I just didn’t realize and, you know, I wasn’t thinking about how many people got hurt in that moment,” Smith explained. “So I want to apologize to Chris’ mother, I want to apologize to Chris’ family.”
“Jada has also been pushing Will to apologize because it has become this really dark cloud over her Red Table Talk series,” the source said in August, adding that Smith was “in hell” after the backlash. “His team had hoped that the controversy would die down, but it just hasn’t. It would be impossible for him to move forward successfully unless he [addressed the slap].”
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