Returning to movie theaters earlier than expected, Will Smith stages a dramatic comeback in the trailer for Emancipation. While the movie’s release was in doubt following Smith’s shocking display at the 2022 Oscars, where, we should note, he won his first Academy Award, Emancipation inches closer to release thanks to Apple TV+. The epic narrative that he and director Antoine Fuqua set out to tell appears in desaturated color schemes, black and white montages, and the muck, mire, grit, and grime of Smith’s characters’ exodus. Had this year’s Oscars not happened, there would be no doubt that the trailer would mark the beginning of Smith’s campaign.
The trailer sees Smith in full-on drama mode, as to be expected, complete with a chin beard and a thick accent that, to tell the truth, evokes his turn in the sports drama Concussion. As for the menacing slave hunter, Smith’s co-star Ben Foster is right in the pocket. Long known for his unhinged, violent, and ruthless characters, Foster doesn’t have to do much to get the audience against him.
But the heaviness of the subject matter is felt at every turn. Smith had long “avoided making films about slavery,” he told GQ last year. He continued: “In the early part of my career, I didn’t want to show Black people in that light. I wanted to be a superhero. So I wanted to depict Black excellence alongside my white counterparts. I wanted to play roles that you would give to Tom Cruise.”
Smith eventually reconsidered his position when Quentin Tarantino offered him the lead role in Django Unchained. However, the actor declined because he “didn’t want to make a slavery film about vengeance.”
Still, it is difficult to ignore the context of 2022 Will Smith and his attack on Chris Rock at the Oscars. Fuqua feels differently, telling The Hollywood Reporter that he wouldn’t toss out the movie over the controversy. “Isn’t 400 years of slavery, of brutality, more important than one bad moment,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of people get awards that have done some really nasty things.”
Emancipation opens in theaters on December 2 and streams on Apple TV+ on December 9.