Will Smith’s next film will be released this year after all, with Apple Studios announcing that “Emancipation” is arriving in theaters next month, just in time for the upcoming awards season.
The historical drama from “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua will now open in theaters on Dec. 2 and be made available to stream on Dec. 9, contrary to reports that claimed the film would be delayed until 2023.
“Emancipation” is Smith’s first major project since he walked onstage during the Oscars ceremony in March and slapped presenter Chris Rock over a joke the comedian made about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
Since then, Smith has apologized for his actions and voluntarily resigned from the Academy, which banned him from attending the Oscars for the next decade. However, he can still be nominated for an award should his Hollywood peers deem him worthy of one.
The release of “Emancipation,” which completed production just a month before the infamous awards show moment, was initially delayed in the fallout from Smith’s altercation with Rock, upending plans for a major awards season push behind Smith’s performance, which is already drawing praise.
But Apple Studios, which acquired the film for a record-breaking $120 million, has apparently changed course — and the gripping first trailer makes a powerful case as to why.
Inspired by real-life events, “Emancipation” stars Smith as Peter, a man who escapes slavery in Louisiana, journeys north and joins the Union Army during the Civil War. Photos of his whipping scars, including one known as “The Scourged Back,” become some of the most widely circulated at the time and ultimately help expose the brutality of slavery to the world.
The trailer unveils Smith’s powerful performance in the film, which also stars Ben Foster, Steven Ogg and Charmaine Bingwa.
“I will not be afraid. What can a mere man do to me?” Smith says in the clip amid flashes of Civil War battlefields and his character evading slave hunters through the swamplands. “I will look in triumph at my enemies.”
During a private screening of the film over the weekend, Smith gave his first comments about the period drama to a crowd at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 51st Annual Legislative Conference.
“Throughout my career, I’ve turned down many films that were set in slavery. I never wanted to show us like that, you know, and then this picture came along, and this is not a film about slavery,” Smith said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “This is a film about freedom. This is a film about resilience.”
The screening was the “King Richard” star’s first major public appearance since he broke his monthslong silence earlier this summer in an apology video regarding the Oscars slap.
Watch the trailer for “Emancipation” below.