It’s been just over seven months since Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on the Oscars stage — and now, the actor is ready to hit the screen. Emancipation, the slave thriller directed by Antoine Fuqua, doesn’t want to be overshadowed by that slap heard around the world. “The film to me is bigger than that moment,” Fuqua said in an interview with Vanity Fair. “Four hundred years of slavery is bigger than one moment. My hope is that people will see it that way and watch the movie and be swept away with the great performance by Will and all the real hard work that the whole crew did.” Now, Apple TV+ has released a trailer for the film, setting it for theaters on December 2 and streaming on December 9. That’s earlier than previously reported, with Variety reporting in May that the film was eyeing a 2023 release.
The trailer gives a first look at Smith as Peter, an escaped slave traveling north to fight with the Union in the Civil War. The film is based on the true story of Gordon, a slave whose whipped back was photographed and published in 1863. “I wasn’t out looking for a slave movie; I never saw Emancipation as a slave movie,” Fuqua explained. “I wrote ‘sacred motivation’ on the top of my script because it was something more spiritual for me and for Will. It was a story about triumph.”
Some thought Smith could be in contention for another Oscars nomination for the film, which will be Apple TV+’s major awards contender for this year after an auction for its rights at Cannes led to the largest festival acquisition in history, not to mention after Apple took Best Picture with CODA. But after Smith’s slap got him banned from the Oscars for ten years and led him to resign from the Academy, his prospects as a lead are up in the air. Smith, who apologized to Rock in July, could still be nominated for an Oscar but can’t attend the ceremony.