“Throughout my career, I’ve turned down many films that were set in slavery. I never wanted to show us like that. And then this picture came along,” Smith said over the weekend
Will Smith is back. On Monday, Apple TV released the first trailer for Emancipation, the new slavery drama coming to theaters (and Apple TV+) in early December. The movie stars Smith in his first role since being banned from attending the Oscars after slapping Chris Rock onstage earlier this year.
The intense, dark trailer for the Antoine Fuqua-directed film opens with Smith’s voice as Peter saying: “I heard it myself. Slaves are free,” as he explains to a friend that Abraham Lincoln had announced the abolition of slavery.
“We must get to Lincoln’s army. Five days through the swamp,” says Smith. “There are many ways to die here.”
The mostly back-and-white trailer follows Peter, and a group of slaves, attempting to escape in order to find freedom away from the Confederate South. “I will look in triumph at my enemies,” Smith’s character says.
The movie is inspired by the 1893 photos of “Whipped Peter.” One historic image titled “The Scourged Back” shows the back of a former slave with enlarged scars from receiving whippings while he was a slave, which, according to the film, “ultimately contributed to growing public opposition to slavery.”
The release of the trailer comes after Emancipation was screened during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 51st Annual Legislative Conference over the weekend. There, Smith spoke about taking on the role.
“Throughout my career, I’ve turned down many films that were set in slavery. I never wanted to show us like that. And then this picture came along,” Smith said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “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 added, “This is a film about the heart of a man [and] what could be called the first viral image. Cameras had just been created, and the image of whipped Peter went around the world.”
Emancipation marks Smith’s return to the screen after staying mostly away from the spotlight since he slapped Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife Jada’s alopecia. Smith received heavy criticism from the film community and was banned from attending the Oscars and any events related to the Academy Awards for 10 years. He also resigned from the Academy.
“Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive,” Smith wrote in a statement he posted on social media following the slap. “My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jade’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally.”
Back in May, Variety reported that the film would be pushed back as fallout for the slap, but now the film is scheduled to premiere in theaters Dec. 2 before hitting Apple TV+ the following week.
From Rolling Stone US.