Apple has finally set a release date for Will Smith’s high-profile film Emancipation, a film whose release plans were put into question after the actor’s infamous Oscars slap. The film will open in theaters on Dec. 2 and stream on Dec. 9 in time for awards season.
Apple released the first trailer and poster for the film as part of its announcement, which comes days after Smith attended the first screening for the film, which Apple and the NAACP hosted in Washington DC.
In March, Smith walked on stage during the Oscars ceremony and slapped presenter Chris Rock, who had made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
Smith, who won best actor later that night for King Richard, has been banned from attending the ceremony for 10 years and voluntarily resigned from the Academy. He is also prohibited from attending any Academy event during this time, adding a wrinkle to award season campaigning. But is still eligible to be nominated.
Amid the fallout, Netflix put the Smith movie Fast and Loose on the back burner. On July 29, Smith released a video in which he gave his most extensive remarks about the situation yet, noting, “there is no part of me that thinks that was the right way to behave in that moment.”
Antoine Fuqua directs the project, which Apple landed out of the Cannes virtual market in 2020 after a heated bidding war. It also stars Ben Foster, Charmaine Bingwa, Gilbert Owuor, Mustafa Shakir, Steven Ogg, Grant Harvey, Ronnie Gene Bivens, Jayson Warner Smith, Jabbar Lewis, Michael Luwoye, Aaron Moten and Imani Pullum. William N. Collage penned the script.
The film, based on a true story, follows Peter (Smith) a runaway slave who journeyed north, outwitting cold-blooded hunters and surviving the unforgiving swamps of Louisiana along the way. After escaping to freedom, Peter joined the Union Army. When he showed his bare back during an army medical examination, photos were taken of the scars from a near-fatal whipping delivered by an overseer on the plantation owned by John and Bridget Lyons. The Independent published the photo, known as The Scourged Back, in May of 1863. It appeared in Harper’s Weekly‘s July 4 issue and became indisputable proof of the cruelty and barbarity of slavery in America.
Emancipation was always expected for 2022, but in the wake of the Slap, rumors surfaced that Apple was considering pushing it to 2023. The release date news comes as Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s high profile Killers of the Flower Moon was set for 2023, leaving Apple without an awards contender for the year. The streaming service became the first to secure a best picture win, thanks to CODA, earlier this year.
Fuqua recently spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about his hopes for the film. Said the director: “I would like audiences to see the truth and be inspired by it.”