His career has been in free fall ever since Will Smith won an Oscar and slapped Chris Rock. The former Fresh Prince is now on a mission to show that his crown still has some shine.
Emancipation, a new movie directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and starring Smith as Peter, an enslaved man who flees Louisiana in pursuit of his family and eventually enlists in the Union Army, was shown at Apple.
After “the-slap-not-seen-but-talked-about-around-the-world,” several of Smith’s projects, including the movie, were in doubt. However, Apple, which produced Emancipation, staged a screening with the NAACP during the 51st Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in front of a crowd of social impact leaders, indicating its plan to release the movie shortly. Additionally, the Oscars are quickly approaching.
Will Smith wins Best Actor at the 2022 Oscars for his work in “King Richard.” Neilson Barnard/Getty
In a discussion with Fuqua and Mary Elliott, curator of American Slavery at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, that was moderated by political and cultural commentator Angela Rye after the film, Smith—who has kept a relatively low profile since the last Academy Awards—participated.
Smith admitted after the screening that she had declined numerous movies with a slave-related plot throughout her career. “I never intended to display us in such a manner. And suddenly this image appeared. This movie does not deal with slavery. This movie is about having freedom. This movie is about perseverance. This movie is about religion.”
The most widely read publication during the Civil War, Harper’s Weekly of New York, famously featured a picture of the actual Peter (also known as Gordon or “Whipped Peter”) with terrible scars on his back in 1863. The image, which Smith described to as “the first viral image,” motivated free Blacks to enlist in the Union Army and gave Northerners tangible proof of the horrors of slavery.
According to Smith, “This is a video about a man’s heart – what might be considered the first viral image.” “When cameras first appeared, “Whipped Peter” became famous all over the world. This narrative burst and flourished in my heart, and I wanted to be able to tell it to you in a way that only Antoine Fuqua could. It was a rallying cry against slavery.”
Derrick Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP, praised the movie and Smith, calling it “a story of adversity, of tenacity, of love, and of triumph.”
I had the pleasure of watching the film #Emancipation and can’t begin to tell how powerful this is for OUR community and OUR history. It’s a story of adversity, of resilience, of love, and of triumph.
Thank you Antoine Fuqua and Will Smith for sharing your gifts!#ThisIsPower
— Derrick Johnson (@DerrickNAACP) October 1, 2022
Smith won’t be permitted to attend the ceremony—or any ceremony—for another 10 years, even if Smith and Emancipation garner any Oscar hype.
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