Official release poster
Directed byAntoine Fuqua
Written byWilliam N. Collage
Produced by
CinematographyRobert Richardson
Edited byConrad Buff IV
Music byMarcelo Zarvos
Distributed byApple TV+
Release dates
  • December 2, 2022 (2022-12-02) (United States)
  • December 9, 2022 (2022-12-09) (Apple TV+)
Running time
132 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$120–162 million[1][2]

Emancipation is a 2022 American historical action thriller film[3][4][5] set in Louisiana in the 1860s after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery in secessionist Confederate states.[6] 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".[7] 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.[8] 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.


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In a cotton plantation in 1863, Peter is seen sitting on the floor of a house knelt before his wife, Dodienne, alongside their children sitting around him. Suddenly, a group of white men appear at the doorway and snatch a reluctant Peter out of the house, with him putting up a fight until one of the men points a gun at his wife’s head. Peter is then hit in the back of his head, put into a cage at the back of a carriage, and is taken away from his family to a different site. He shouts to his wife and children that he will come back and they should stay together. On his journey, he sees slaves working at the roadside and the heads of killed slaves on poles. Peter is then sent to work on constructing a railroad in Clinton, Louisiana.

The slaves are treated with cruelty by white guards and their boss, Fassel. They are whipped, set upon by dogs, branded and dragged by horses if they try to run away or shot if they stop working because of exhaustion. Peter tells the disheartened slaves to just believe in God and pray.

One day, Peter has had enough, and he uses an opportune moment to fight back at the white men along with other slaves. They escape and run away, while being chased by the white men on horseback and vicious dogs. One slave is unable to swim across a river due to fear of alligators and is caught. After revealing the other slaves’ locations to Fassel, he is then freed and tries to cross the river, but he is then shot and later eaten by the gators. The three remaining men split up and go about their separate ways. Peter has many close encounters with being found, but somehow manages to stay hidden from his enslavers. When Peter is close to Baton Rouge, Fassel catches to him and is about to shoot him, when he is suddenly shot in the head by a Black member of the 1st Louisiana Native Guard.

Peter is taken to a hospital to recover. A photograph of his back is then taken and is vowed to be shown all over the world to aid the end of slavery. Peter then decides to join the army to help free his family. After a victorious battle against Confederate soldiers, he returns to various cotton plantations to free the slaves, while also reuniting with Dodienne and their children. In the epilogue, the text states that it is thanks to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that by 1865, over 4 million slaves have been freed.



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.[9] Producer Joey McFarland, who had started researching and developing the film in 2018, recruited Collage to write the script.[10] 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.[9]

Warner Bros, MGM, Lionsgate, and Universal Pictures bid on the film before Apple ultimately won distribution rights for over $130 million.[8][11][12] In August 2021, Ben Foster, Charmaine Bingwa, Gilbert Owuor, and Mustafa Shakir joined the cast.[13] Smith was paid $35 million for his involvement.[14]

Principal photography was expected to begin on May 3, 2021, in Los Angeles.[15] It was later set to begin on June 21, 2021, in Georgia,[16] 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."[16][17] The location move was reported to have cost approximately $15 million.[16] Filming was announced to take place in New Orleans from July 12 to August 21, 2021.[18] On August 2, filming paused for five days due to several positive COVID-19 tests.[19] Additional casting for the film was announced in November and December.[20][21]


Main article: Emancipation (soundtrack)

The film score is by Marcelo Zarvos, who described the music as "spiritual and untraditional" as per Fuqua's suggestions.[22] He employed a 70-piece orchestra, a 40-member choir, and soloists from around the world, for traditional American and African sounds. The soundtrack was released by Lakeshore Records on December 9, 2022.[23]


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.[24] It was screened in Los Angeles, on October 24, 2022.[25] The film premiered in theaters on December 2, 2022, and was streamed on Apple TV+ on December 9.[26]

In May 2022, the film's release was reportedly delayed to a tentative 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.[27] It was subsequently moved to its final date.


On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 45% 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."[28] 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.[29] The slap incident has influenced some reviews, which talk about the movie against a backdrop of the slap and Smith's possible redemption in Hollywood.[7]


Accolades received by Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Black Reel Awards February 6, 2023 Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female Charmaine Bingwa Nominated [30]
Outstanding Cinematography Robert Richardson Nominated
Hollywood Music in Media Awards November 16, 2022 Original Score — Feature Film Marcelo Zarvos Nominated [31]
NAACP Image Awards February 25, 2023 Outstanding Motion Picture Emancipation Nominated [32]
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 Emancipation Nominated
Women Film Critics Circle December 19, 2022 Invisible Woman Award Charmaine Bingwa Won [33]

See also


  1. ^ "Emancipation (2022)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved December 5, 2022.
  2. ^ "Fastlane NextGen: Initial Certification Search" (Type "Sacred Motivation" in the search box). Louisiana Economic Development. April 6, 2022. Archived from the original on June 15, 2020. Retrieved February 17, 2023.
  3. ^ Truitt, Brian. "'Emancipation' review: A powerhouse Will Smith lifts the wobbly Apple TV+ action thriller". USA TODAY. Retrieved January 30, 2023.
  4. ^ Coyle, Jake (December 1, 2022). "Review: Will Smith-led 'Emancipation' is an action thriller". Associated Press. Retrieved February 15, 2023.
  5. ^ Dargis, Manohla (December 1, 2022). "'Emancipation' Review: Will Smith in a Brutal Journey". The New York Times. Retrieved February 15, 2023.
  6. ^ "The Emancipation Proclamation". National Archives. October 6, 2015.
  7. ^ a b McIntosh, Steven (December 1, 2022). "Will Smith: Have Emancipation reviews been influenced by the slap?". BBC News. Retrieved January 6, 2023.
  8. ^ a b Fleming, Mike Jr. (June 24, 2020). "Huge Virtual Cannes Battle: Bids North Of $75 Million On Antoine Fuqua-Will Smith Runaway Slave Tale 'Emancipation'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  9. ^ a b Fleming, Mike Jr. (June 15, 2020). "Antoine Fuqua & Will Smith Runaway Slave Thriller 'Emancipation' To Be Introduced At Virtual Cannes Market; Based On Indelible 'Scourged Back' Photo". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  10. ^ McNary, Dave (June 24, 2020). "Studios Bidding Big for Will Smith-Antoine Fuqua's 'Emancipation'". Variety. Retrieved August 19, 2021.
  11. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (June 26, 2020). "Apple & Warner Bros Down To Wire On 'Emancipation' At Virtual Cannes; Bids In Record Setting $130 Million Gross Range". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  12. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (July 1, 2020). "Apple Wins 'Emancipation'; Will Smith's Westbrook Relationship With Toppers Zack Van Amburg & Jamie Erlicht At Sony Helped Seal Festival Record Pre-Buy". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  13. ^ Grobar, Matt (August 3, 2021). "Ben Foster, Charmaine Bingwa, Gilbert Owuor & Mustafa Shakir Join Antoine Fuqua's 'Emancipation'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 3, 2021.
  14. ^ Lang, Brent; Donnelly, Matt; Rubin, Rebecca (July 20, 2022). "Inside Movie Stars' Salaries: Joaquin Phoenix Nabs $20M for Joker 2, Tom Cruise Heads to Over $100M and More". Variety. Archived from the original on July 20, 2022. Retrieved July 21, 2022.
  15. ^ "Emancipation - Production Listing". Productionlist.com. March 15, 2021. Archived from the original on May 14, 2021. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  16. ^ a b c Fleming, Mike Jr (April 12, 2021). "Will Smith & Antoine Fuqua Confirm Georgia Exit Of 'Emancipation': "We Cannot In Good Conscience Provide Economic Support" After Recent Election Law – Update". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 12, 2021.
  17. ^ Wicker, Jewel (April 12, 2021). "Will Smith and Antoine Fuqua film pulled from Georgia over voting bill". The Guardian. Retrieved August 18, 2021.
  18. ^ "Film and TV Projects Going Into Production - Emancipation". Variety Insight. Archived from the original on May 14, 2021. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  19. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (August 1, 2021). "'Emancipation' Will Smith-Antoine Fuqua Apple Movie Pauses Production After Positive Covid Tests". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 3, 2021.
  20. ^ Grobar, Matt (November 11, 2021). "Antoine Fuqua's 'Emancipation' Adds Steven Ogg, Grant Harvey, Ronnie Gene Blevins & More". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 11, 2021.
  21. ^ Grobar, Matt (December 2, 2021). "Antoine Fuqua's Apple Thriller 'Emancipation' Adds Newcomer Imani Pullum". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 23, 2022.
  22. ^ Burlingame, Jon (December 2, 2022). "Music of 'Emancipation': Marcelo Zarvos Evokes African, Haitian Sounds for Will Smith Slavery Escape Drama". Variety. Retrieved June 8, 2023.
  23. ^ "'Emancipation' Soundtrack Album Details". Film Music Reporter. Retrieved June 8, 2023.
  24. ^ Pina, Christy (October 1, 2022). "Will Smith's Apple Thriller 'Emancipation' Gets First Screening". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 2, 2022.
  25. ^ Gardner, Chris (October 24, 2022). "Will Smith Hosts "Epic" Screening of 'Emancipation' With Rihanna, Dave Chappelle and Tyler Perry as Guests". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 25, 2022.
  26. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (October 3, 2022). "Apple Sets December Theatrical Release Date For Will Smith's 'Emancipation'; Watch First Trailer & Read Q&A With Director Antoine Fuqua". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 3, 2022.
  27. ^ Anderson, Jenna (May 6, 2022). "Apple Delays New Will Smith Movie Due to Chris Rock Slapping Controversy". Comic Book Resources.
  28. ^ "Emancipation". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved January 3, 2022. Edit this at Wikidata
  29. ^ "Emancipation". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved December 10, 2022.
  30. ^ Complex, Valerie (December 15, 2022). "Black Reel Awards Nominations Announced For 23rd Annual Ceremony; 'The Woman King' And 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' Lead With 14 Nominations". Deadline. Retrieved December 22, 2022.
  31. ^ Grein, Paul (November 16, 2022). "Rihanna's 'Wakanda Forever' Song, Terence Blanchard Win at 2022 Hollywood Music in Media Awards: Full List". Billboard. Retrieved November 16, 2022.
  32. ^ Jackson, Angelique (January 12, 2023). "'Abbott Elementary,' 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' and 'The Woman King' Dominate NAACP Image Award Nominations". Variety. Retrieved January 13, 2023.
  33. ^ Neglia, Matt (December 19, 2022). "The 2022 Women Film Critics Circle (WFCC) Winners". Next Best Picture. Retrieved January 14, 2023.