Based on a true story, Emancipation follows Peter (played by Will Smith), who runs away from his plantation in search of his family, outwitting cold-blooded hunters and surviving the Louisiana swamps along the way.
The film is set a few months after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on 1st January, 1863, which freed Black slaves and invited them to join the Union Army to help turn the tide during the Civil War.
The movie appears to be based heavily on the story of a real escaped slave named Gordon, who famously was photographed in 1863 with his back to the camera, revealing the atrocious scarring he developed as a result of whippings. Historians contend this photograph helped turned public sentiment against slavery by presenting undeniable proof of its cruelty. Peter adopts some of the real Gordon’s saga, and the trailer includes a quick shot with Peter’s back turned toward a photographer.
Smith told press, “When I took this film, I envisioned the potential service it could be to modern social conversation. I thought it would be a necessary reminder of some of the roads we had gone down as a country in the past to potentially avert any of those similar paths.”
Though he has long talked about his desire to avoid films about slavery, Smith said he thinks of Emancipation as a film about freedom. “The realisation for me that this was not a movie about slavery — when I read it, this was a movie about freedom,” he continued. “This was a movie about emancipation. I had seen the picture, but as I got to know Peter and understand some of the experiences of Peter and the way he was able to sustain faith in the heart of the greatest imaginable human atrocities…. That’s what attracted me to Peter, and I wanted to be able to study and learn and to know how to do that myself.”
“This project was an absolute monster of a difficult film to make. It was supposed to take three months, and after an act of god, the film ended up taking seven. And the team at Apple never flinched, not one time,” Smith said. He continued: “I’ve worked everywhere in town, and you guys are the top of the top, I have to say. There were many days when the plug could have gotten pulled on this thing, and your devotion to bringing this story to your audience and to the world, I salute you.”
Emancipation plays in selected Cinemas from 2nd December, and debuts on Apple TV+ 9th December.
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