|Directed by||Antoine Fuqua|
|Written by||William N. Collage|
|Edited by||Conrad Buff IV|
|Music by||Marcelo Zarvos|
|Distributed by||Apple TV+|
Emancipation is a 2022 American historical action thriller film set in Louisiana in the 1860s after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to end most slavery in the US. The film was directed by Antoine Fuqua and co-produced by Will Smith, who stars as a runaway slave headed for Baton Rouge. He must survive the swamps while being chased by slave catchers and their dogs. Written by William N. Collage, the biographical film is loosely based on a possibly conglomerated story of the lives of either or both of two formerly enslaved Black men named Gordon and "Whipped Peter". That story was made famous by the photograph of a man's bare back heavily scourged from an overseer's whippings, published worldwide as magazine illustrations in 1863, and gave the abolitionist movement proof of the cruelty of slavery. Ben Foster stars as a ruthless slave hunter and Charmaine Bingwa as an enslaved wife and mother. The film employs an artistic desaturated color palette reminiscent of black-and-white film.
Producer Joey McFarland began researching the story in 2018, and hired Collage to write the script. The film was officially announced in June 2020, with Fuqua to direct and Smith to star. Filming was in Louisiana between July and August 2021, with Apple paying US$130 million to acquire the rights to the film, outbidding several other studios.
It was screened in Washington, D.C. on October 1, 2022, and released in select cinemas on December 2, 2022, then streamed on December 9 on Apple TV+. The film received mixed reviews from critics, who praised Smith's performance, but criticized the screenplay and its handling of real-life events.
In the 1860s, the African-American enslaved Peter escapes from Louisiana to freedom. In the opening scene, Peter is seen sitting on the floor knelt before his wife. His children are sitting around him, eagerly listening to the words he speaks as he washes his wife’s feet. Suddenly a group of white men appear in the doorway and tells Peter to "come on boy". They snatched him out of the house and Peter puts up a brief fight until one of the men points a gun at his wife’s head. He then tell the men that he will walk. Peter is then hit in the back of his head, put into the back of a cage, and taken from his family to an unknown destination. He works on a railroad in Clinton, Louisiana.
On June 15, 2020, it was reported that Antoine Fuqua would direct Will Smith in Emancipation, based on a spec script written by William N. Collage. Producer Joey McFarland, who had started researching and developing the film in 2018, recruited Collage to write the script. Fuqua said:
It's almost two years now from when I first read the script. It hit my heart and my soul in so many ways that are impossible to convey but I think you understand. We're watching some of the feeling that I had, in the streets right now. There's sadness, there's anger, there's love, faith and hope ... That's important to see, and the most hopeful thing that I'm seeing, that they're not going to stand for it anymore.
Warner Bros, MGM, Lionsgate, and Universal Pictures bid on the film before Apple ultimately won distribution rights for over $130 million. In August 2021, Ben Foster, Charmaine Bingwa, Gilbert Owuor, and Mustafa Shakir joined the cast. Smith earned $35 million for his part in the film.
Principal photography was expected to begin on May 3, 2021, in Los Angeles. It was later set to begin on June 21, 2021, in Georgia, but on April 12, it was announced that the film would be shot elsewhere due to the recently-enacted Election Integrity Act of 2021. Smith and Fuqua said in a joint statement: "We cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that enacts regressive voting laws that are designed to restrict voter access." The location move was reported to have cost approximately $15 million. Filming was announced to take place in New Orleans from July 12 to August 21, 2021. On August 2, filming paused for five days due to several positive COVID-19 tests. Additional casting for the film was announced in November and December.
A screening of Emancipation was held at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's 51st Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., on October 1, 2022, with Smith and Fuqua in attendance to give a subsequent Q&A discussion. It was screened in Los Angeles, on October 24, 2022. The film premiered in theaters on December 2, 2022, and was streamed on Apple TV+ on December 9.
In May 2022, the film's release was reportedly delayed to a 2023 date, due to numerous production delays, the controversy over Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards, and an overcrowded film release schedule from Apple. It was subsequently moved to December 2022.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 46% of 154 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 5.7/10. The website's consensus reads, "Emancipation works as an action movie – albeit one that's uncomfortably at odds with its awkward handling of the real-life events that inspired its stirring story." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 53 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s)||Result||Ref.|
|Black Reel Awards||February 6, 2023||Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female||Charmaine Bingwa||Nominated|||
|Outstanding Cinematography||Robert Richardson||Nominated|
|Hollywood Music in Media Awards||November 16, 2022||Original Score — Feature Film||Marcelo Zarvos||Nominated|||
|NAACP Image Awards||February 25, 2023||Outstanding Motion Picture||A Jazzman's Blues||Nominated|||
|Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture||Antoine Fuqua||Nominated|
|Outstanding Costume Design||Francine Jamison-Tanchuck'||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture||Will Smith||Won|
|Outstanding Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture||The cast of A Jazzman's Blues||Nominated|
|Women Film Critics Circle||December 19, 2022||Invisible Woman Award||Charmaine Bingwa||Won|||
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