Without a certain, Emancipation, Antoine Fuqua’s action film about slavery, would have been nominated for an Academy Award had it not been for Will Smith’s scandalous slap in the face of Chris Rock during the 2022 Oscars telecast. In any case, this appears to be Will Smith’s big comeback following the infamous slapgate, as early screenings of the film have received fantastic reviews.
According to Deadline, the $120 million film depicts “the horrific flight of Peter, a runaway slave who is forced to outwit cold-blooded hunters and the harsh marshes of Louisiana on a torturous trip north to join the Union Army.” In addition, the film starring Will Smith has been described as a “action thriller with a profound emotional core,” with comparisons to “survival stories like Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto.”
The powerful message of Emancipation
Early in October, Emancipation was screened for the first time at a private event hosted during the 51st annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in Washington. Mary Elliot, Curator of American Slavery at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, was present at the screening. Also in attendance were filmmaker Antoine Fuqua, Will Smith, and several other prominent American social justice figures.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson referred to the Will Smith picture as a “tale of adversity, of tenacity, of love, and of victory” and a significant moment for “OUR community and OUR history.”
Former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile called it as a “beautiful graphic that depicts how black people battled for freedom” and requested Apple + to confirm the release date.
Even political and cultural journalist Angela Rye joined the critics in a post-screening discussion she held with Will Smith, Antoine Fuqua and Mary Elliot, describing Emancipation as a “strong story rooted not only in our history but also in our resistance as a people.”
Will Smith, Antoine Fuqua, Apple+, and the rest of the cast and crew must be ecstatic with the film’s thunderous early praise, despite the film’s uncertain release schedule.
Can Will Smith win an Oscar for Emancipation?
After the initial showing received rave reviews on Twitter, this will certainly be the million dollar question. Many award experts predicted that Emancipation would earn Will Smith a nomination for Best Actor and even his second Academy Award.
However, after Slapgate at the 2022 Oscars, the calculus has shifted, not just due to the uproar surrounding Will Smith but also due to his ten-year exile from the Academy. Though he may theoretically still be nominated despite his exclusion from the Oscars shortlist, which bans him from attending the event or casting a vote, the smack in the face will weigh heavily on the minds of everyone considering voting for him.
That is not to suggest that Emancipation cannot be a potential Oscar candidate in other top categories in 2023, depending on when it finally opens. Could Apple+ repeat its success from earlier this year with Coda in the category for best movie?
What is the date of Emancipation’s release?
Yes, the other important question. The fact that the film starring Will Smith has been privately seen shows that it is complete and ready for release to the general public; in fact, a premiere was scheduled for the midst of Oscar season, which would have brought it to theaters before the end of 2022.
IndieWire notes that “it is not likely to be released until 2023,” but this does not preclude it from Oscar contention if reviewers and Academy members respond with the same fervor as those who attended the private screening.