Exclusive: Will Smith Says ‘Emancipation’ Is ‘Not Another Slavery Movie,’ Hopes Empathy Will Grow From Film


Will Smith returns to the Louisiana swamp (where Tiffany Haddish took him on a Groupon tour) to give one of the most incredible performances of his life in Emancipation.

Emancipation production still featuring director Antoine Fuqua and Will Smith

Source: Courtesy Apple TV+ / Apple TV+

Will Smith Says Hatred In ‘Emancipation’ Gives Context To Current Trends

Global Grind Senior Content Director Janeé Bolden spoke with Emancipation star Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua about the film, which arrives on Apple TV + next week.

Emancipation deep dives into the life of the man pictured in the famed ‘Whipped Peter’ photograph. The image of the formerly enslaved man with a badly scarred back became a viral visual aid in the American anti-slavery movement. If you’ve ever seen the photo, it’s likely you won’t ever forget it. The film explores the weeks before the photo was taken, when Peter was taken from his family to work at the Confederate camp he’d eventually escape from.

We spoke with Smith and Fuqua about why now is the right time for the film, as well as how the hatred reflected in the time period persists today. Smith agreed that the movie provides context for some of the racial discord that currently exists in the U.S. and Fuqua explained how certain moments in the film are meant to reference current events.

“When you listen to some of the dialogue in this film, if you closed your eyes, it could be happening today,’ Smith told Global Grind. ‘I think it gives context to some of the difficulties we are having in America today. In watching this film you get a sense of the trajectory. That fireside speech by Ben Foster is crystal clear. In so many ways, you can see the little boy who actually loved his Black housekeeper and was taught to hate her. He was beaten into hatred, he was emotionally assaulted by his father into hatred. My greatest hope for this film is that it helps us all to cultivate understanding, and hopefully, empathy to grow out of it.”

Will Smith and Ben Foster Emancipation production still

Source: Courtesy Apple TV+ / Apple TV+

Antoine Fuqua Reveals ‘Emancipation’ Easter Eggs


Fuqua and Smith also spoke about the sensitivity of producing films dealing with slavery.

“Peter’s image was the first viral image that was a rallying cry against slavery. He inspired us to make this movie,” Fuqua told Global Grind. “If you look at the film, there are several beats in there, like the ringing of the bell by the young girl, that’s systematic racism. The young boy saying ‘Mama,’ that’s George Floyd. It’s still happening today.”

“The idea for Antoine and I, this is certainly not another slavery movie, this is a whole nother thing,” Smith told Global Grind.

“What Antoine created is something unique and is not about slavery. This is a movie about freedom; this is a movie about family; this is a movie about faith; this is a movie about love. This is a movie in that I believe Antoine has done is what I believed was impossible. He set a movie in this time that yet can still have Black people stand up and cheer in a movie theater. That’s a tightrope walk I wasn’t even sure was possible.”

Emancipation production still featuring Will Smith, Michael Luwoye and Gilbert Owuor

Source: Courtesy Apple TV+ / Apple TV+


“You never told me that,” Fuqua interjected, laughing. “He had me geeked up. ‘You got it! Don’t worry. You can do it!”

“I was like, I sure hope he can do it!” Will laughed.

Will also laughed with Janeé over her joke about returning to the swamp where Tiffany Haddish brought him and Jada on a Groupon tour when the ladies were filming Girls Trip.

“That’s hilarious,” Smith said. “It was those same swamps too!”

Emancipation begins streaming on Apple TV + December 9