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Will Smith Slavery Movie Emancipation Coming to Apple TV+ This December Despite Oscars Slap Controversy

As I’ve been saying for the past few weeks, Apple has, in fact, decided to release its supposedly great Will Smith movie Emancipation in early December — this despite the actor’s Q-score taking a nosedive in the wake of The Slap. You can watch the first trailer fo the powerful period film below.

Emancipation will have a one-week qualifying run in theaters on Dec. 2 before it begins streaming on Apple TV+ on Dec. 9. I personally believe the speculation out there that the film won’t enjoy quite the same promotional push as CODA, which was all over Apple stores. Apparently, market research shows that people don’t want to be reminded of slavery when they’re going to buy an expensive phone or laptop.

But Apple is standing behind the movie, having just premiered the film at an NAACP screening during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. Director Antoine Fuqua flew in for the event from Italy (where he’s shooting The Equalizer 3 with Denzel Washington) and told Deadline that “it felt incredible” to see the film with an audience for the first time.

“To watch people react, gasping, talking and commenting on things that were happening in the film, really all the things you hope your movie would do for an audience. It moved them, entertained them. We had a great conversation about the subject matter that was important to them. So, yeah, it was pretty amazing,” Fuqua told the trade.

There has been a lot of uproar on social media about Apple’s decision to release Emancipation this year, as many believe the streamer should’ve waited a year to let the controversy surrounding The Slap die down. But that wasn’t your normal controversy, and there’s simply no running away from it. Why Apple would want every article about its streaming service for the next year-plus to include a sentence wondering what it will do with Emancipation is completely beyond me. The streamer had to get out in front of it and let the work speak for itself. If voters want to snub Will Smith this year because of what he did, that’s on them.

“We have a lot of healing to do here, but if we can look at the film with open hearts and open minds, and have a real conversation about the ugly brutality and reality of slavery, that might help with the healing. I think it is important for people to see that,” Fuqua told Deadline.

Emancipation movie
Will Smith in Emancipation/Apple TV+

I haven’t seen Emancipation myself but the trailer below sure looks good, and probably unlike what many folks were expecting from Fuqua, who has always been talented but has nonetheless been off his game off late between Infinite and The Guilty.

The fact is that Apple currently has three major Oscar contenders — Emancipation, Ridley Scott‘s Napoleon, and Martin Scorsese‘s Killers of the Flower Moon. It would make no sense to release all three next year, nor would it make sense to force Scott to rush to make a release date. Meanwhile, Killers of the Flower Moon is said to be banking on a Cannes premiere next year.

Prior to Apple’s announcement, the streamer had pinned its hopes on The Greatest Beer Run Ever, which is Peter Farrelly‘s follow-up to Green Book, but it has drawn mixed reviews thus far. Some suggested that Apple might take this awards season off following its Best Picture win for CODA earlier this year, but the truth is that its execs got a little taste for the glory that comes with winning gold and, Will Smith vehicle or not, wanted to run it back, so to speak.

The streamer sees Emancipation as an inspirational true story, and it was also inspirational how the production itself went through hell while filming in the swamps of Louisiana, though everyone managed to persevere through a pandemic, hurricanes, and the insane heat down there.

Sure, there might be a backlash in some corners, but Apple is a trillion-dollar company that has survived greater criticism in the past. Those who need another year to “get over” The Slap may want to stop clutching their pearls and offer a little forgiveness to a man who has been in the public eye since he was very young and has served his community with decency, integrity, and respect for decades. To be judged on one incident alone is totally ridiculous.

The fact is that while Chris Rock certainly did not deserve to be slapped, Will Smith deserved that Oscar for King Richard, and if he’s great in Emancipation, he’ll deserve a nomination for his performance, regardless of whether or not he’s allowed to attend the ceremony.

“Will Smith is a great guy. I was with him for a couple of years, making this movie. He is a wonderful person, [and] an amazing partner, and he did an amazing job on this movie. Chris Rock’s a good guy, I know Chris as well…and I just pray it works out for them as friends, and we can move forward,” Fuqua told Deadline. Amen to that.

For now, watch the trailer for Emancipation below:

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