After a lot of back and forth on when Apple would release the Antoine Fuqua-directed slave drama Emancipation, starring last season’s Best Actor Oscar winner Will Smith, the news dropped on Monday morning that it would indeed land in 2022 and with it came a full trailer and poster.
The film was originally intended as a 2022 release, then delayed after Will Smith slapped Oscars host Chris Rock live on television at the 94th Academy Awards after Rock made a disparaging joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s appearance, which resulted in Smith resigning from the Academy and a 10-year ban from all Academy events. The ban does not include his ability to be nominated in any capacity. Less than an hour after the slap, Smith won the Best Actor Oscar for his work as the father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams in King Richard. The film recently screened in full in Washington, D.C. with Smith there to present the film. This very early screening caused a stir as to a possible release announcement but attendees were told, as were top outlets by Apple, that it would be a 2023 release.
Emancipation tells the story of a runaway slave named Peter (played by Smith) and based on the true story of Gordon, an escaped American slave who became known as the subject of photographs documenting the extensive keloid scarring (“scourged back”) from whippings received in slavery. Release of the photos in 1863 in Harper’s Weekly became some of the most widely circulated images of the abolitionist movement during the American Civil War.
Emancipation is directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by William N. Collage, and produced by Todd Black, Joey McFarland and Jon Mone, and co-stars Ben Foster.
Warner Bros, MGM, Lionsgate, and Universal Pictures all bid on the film before Apple won distribution rights for a massive $130 million. The studio also has Martin Scorsese’s The Killers of the Flower Moon, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and Ridley Scott’s Napoleon, starring Joaquin Phoenix – both also coming with hefty price tags – in 2023.
Apple surprised last year, becoming the first streamer to win the Best Picture Oscar with CODA, a film that premiered at Sundance and received a quiet August release. Pressure has definitely been on Apple to replicate their achievement but with their slate this year of Cha Cha Real Smooth, The Greatest Beer Run Ever and Raymond & Ray, it wasn’t looking like lightening would strike twice.
Smith enters a relatively open Best Actor race outside of frontrunner Brendan Fraser in The Whale but it remains to be seen if the industry will embrace him just a year after the Oscars incidents or if the slaptermath will keep voters away.
Emancipation will be released in select theaters by Apple Original Films on December 2 and available stream on AppleTV+ on December 9.