Will Smith Makes His Post-Slap Return in Civil War Epic ‘Emancipation’

Apple TV+
Apple TV+

Just months after his Oscar win for Best Actor in King Richard—the only thing of note that happened that night, I’m pretty sure—Will Smith is back in the new trailer for the Apple TV+ epic, Emancipation.

The film, which was inspired by true events, follows an enslaved man named Peter in the mid-19th century. Peter sets out on an imperiled journey through the swamps of Louisiana to escape from the plantation owners who have nearly killed him. Intent on reuniting with his family at any cost, heis willing to risk facing the natural horrors of the Baton Rouge swampland if it means he never has to return to his brutal life on the plantation.

After hearing tell of the Union Army freeing slaves during the Civil War, Peter’s mind is set. “We must get to Lincoln’s army,” Peter says in voiceover. “Five days, through the swamp…I will not be afraid. What can a mere man do to me?” Moments later, the teaser quickly glimpses the trials that await Peter flash before us. Alligators, bloodhounds, and all of the evils of humanity attempting to chase him down.

Emancipation was directed by Antoine Fuqua, who looks to have made the most compelling and buzzy film of his long career thus far. Inspired by the widely publicized, historic photo of Peter—which depicts the merciless violence he endured at the hands of plantation owners—Emancipation was a daunting project for Fuqua to take on.

“You want to get it right and I’d want to make it as truthful and authentic as I can,” Fuqua told Deadline. “Peter’s image from 1863 inspired me to want to make the film and inspired Will to want to make the film… It seemed to inspire the audience similarly…that was the thing I felt most moved by.”

The Academy’s Handling of Will Smith’s Oscars Slap Has Been a Total Disaster

As for what will be the inevitable, unfortunate public narrative surrounding the film, Fuqua and Apple were undeterred by the buzz immediately following the Oscars slap. “[Apple] never stopped talking about releasing the film…and I have to say Apple has been amazing through this whole film,” Fuqua said.

When asked specifically about Will Smith and his reaction to the situation as a larger cultural moment, Fuqua paused. “Will Smith is a great guy. I was with him for a couple of years, making this movie. He is a wonderful person…Chris Rock’s a good guy. I know Chris well…and I just pray it works out for them as friends.”

Emancipation is in theaters December 2 and streaming on Apple TV+ December 9.

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