Will Smith is making his return to acting following his Oscars controversy in March.
On Monday, Apple Original Films dropped the official trailer and key art for Emancipationdirected and executive produced by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day). The drama marks the 54-year-old actor’s first film since his incident at the 94th Academy Awards where he slapped Chris Rock in front of a live audience.
Set in Louisiana during the American Civil War, Smith portrays Peter, a man who escapes slavery and sets out on a quest for freedom.
The trailer begins with Peter saying, “I heard it myself— slaves are free.”
From there, he begins on a triumphant journey following the “sounds of Abraham [Lincoln]’s cannons.”
In one scene, as he and a fellow slave attempt their escape, they are faced with the dangerous swamps of Louisiana. “There are many ways to die in a swamp,” the companion says in the trailer, to which Peter replies, “There are many ways to die here.”
Peter is then seen running from merciless dogs and soldiers, in addition to taking on the deadly Louisiana swamps, as he sets his sights on being a free man.
“I will look in triumph at my enemies,” Peter says at the end of the trailer as he looks up at the sky.
“Emancipation tells the triumphant story of Peter (Smith), a man who escapes from slavery, relying on his wits, unwavering faith and deep love for his family to evade cold-blooded hunters and the unforgiving swamps of Louisiana on his quest for freedom,” an official synopsis reads. “The film is inspired by the 1863 photos of ‘Whipped Peter,’ taken during a Union Army medical examination, that first appeared in Harper’s Weekly. One image, known as ‘The Scourged Back,’ which shows Peter’s bare back mutilated by a whipping delivered by his enslavers, ultimately contributed to growing public opposition to slavery.”
Emancipation opens in theaters December 2 and will be available to stream on Apple TV+ December 9. The announcement was made following an advance screening of Emancipation hosted together with the NAACP during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 51st Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, DC
During the conference, moderated by politics and culture commentator Angela Rye, Smith spoke about taking on his first acting role as a slave. “Throughout my career, I’ve turned down many films that were set in slavery,” Smith said, per Tea HollywoodReporter. “I never wanted to show us like that. And then this picture came along. And this is not a film about slavery. This is a film about freedom. This is a film about resilience. This is a film about faith. This is a film about the heart of a man — what could be called the first viral image. Cameras had just been created, and the image of whipped Peter went around the world.”
Smith then called the photo a “rallying cry against slavery,” and one that inspired a film that he says he wanted to be part of in “a way that only Antoine Fuqua could deliver.” Fuqua has directed award-winning movies over the course of his career, including Training Day and The Equalizer.
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Smith has kept a relatively low profile since the Oscars in March, when he slapped Rock over a joke the comedian made about his wife Jada — who lives with alopecia — and her shaved head.
After he slapped Rock, and won Best Actor not too soon after, Smith resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was eventually banned from attending Academy events for a decade. He has since apologized multiple times for his actions.
“I was out of line and I was wrong,” he said in a public apology to Rock in July on his social media platforms. “I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”