Apple held its first showing today of Emancipation, the Antoine Fuqua-directed thriller that stars Will Smith an enslaved man who, after recovering from a whipping that nearly killed him, braved the swamps of Louisiana armed with only his wits, to escape cold-blooded slave hunters and be free.
Both Smith and Fuqua made their first public comments about the film in a follow-up discussion following this afternoon’s private screening, held during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation 51st Annual Legislative Conference in DC. Apple hasn’t set a date, but this is the most solid indication that the film will arrive for awards season, a much rougher road because of Smith’s slap of Chris Rock at the last Oscars.
The film has held a high profile since Apple won the rights to make it in a record-breaking auction. Scripted by William N. Collage, Emancipation was inspired by 1863 photographs taken of Peter, when the formerly enslaved man joined the Union Army in hopes of finding his family. The photographs were seen around the world and galvanized opposition to slavery as barbaric. The images were a symbolic forerunner to the photos of the battered body of Emmett Till, video of Rodney King and later the George Floyd video. Until the Oscar slap that drew Smith a 10-year ban from the Academy, Emancipation had been considered a prime awards season contender.
Apple Original Films and the NAACP hosted the screening for a group of members from the community representing groups that included the Congressional Black Caucus, Historically Black Caucus, Historically Black College and Universities, the Divine 9 (Historically Black Fraternities and Sororities), National Council of Negro Women, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Power Rising, #WinWithBlackWomen and other social impact leaders.
We weren’t privy to the post-screening conversation with Fuqua, Smith and Mary Elliott, curator of American Slavery at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Moderated by politics and culture commentator Angela Rye, it marked the first public comments made by the director and star about the film.
The inevitable Tweets are rolling in, the focus on the discourse of an historically important issue. Here is a sample. Will the public and awards crowd look past the distraction to the substance of an important film? We will know soon enough.