Apple Fixes Will Smiths Emancipation Theatrical Release In December Watch

Apple Fixes Will Smith’s ‘Emancipation’ Theatrical Release In December; Watch the first trailer and read Q&A with director Antoine Fuqua

Apple Original Films has dated the escape-from-slavery thriller Emancipation for a December 2 theatrical release, followed by a December 9 release on its streaming site Apple TV+. This follows the film’s first screening in DC on Saturday, where star Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua (who flew in from Italy, where he and Denzel Washington are shooting a third Equalizer film) discussed the fact-based film in a screening orchestrated by Apple and NAACP during the Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

There has been much speculation – and erroneous reporting – as Apple and its filmmakers planned what to do with a major film whose status as the frontrunner of awards season changed when Smith slapped host Chris Rock during the last Oscars after the comic disparaged his had woman having a joke about her hair. Smith, who shortly thereafter won the Academy Award for Best Actor, and while the Academy allowed him an acceptance speech, Smith was subsequently banned for a decade for a horrific personal act in the worst possible place.

Apple CEOs Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht coming out of the first streamer win for Best Picture on CODA, and they knew another award-winning film The Killers of the Flower Moon wouldn’t be finished this year and headed to a film festival in Cannes 2023 would switch premiere. There are good reasons for releasing Emancipation now, any backlash be damned. You have ascended.

Deadline unveils the first trailer for the film (above) here, along with the first interview with Fuqua. It’s been rumored for some time that Emancipation is the best film he’s made in his long career, but that his Oscar hopes could be dashed by The Slap, much like Mel Gibson’s grandiose survival story Apocalypto years ago. Here, Fuqua describes the steps taken to figure out the film’s release, the adversity of making it, and his hopes for the film.

DEADLINE: How did it feel finally showing Emancipation to an audience that was genuinely interested in the film’s central historical themes?

ANTOINE FUQUA: It felt incredible. That was really the first time we’ve experienced it with a full film and an audience. Seeing people react, gasp, talk and comment on things that happened in the film, really all the things that you hope your film would do for an audience. It moved her, entertained her. We had a great conversation about the topic that was important to them. So yeah, it was pretty amazing.

DEADLINE: What were some of the things that resonated that struck you when you read and signed the script, Will Smith a long time ago?

FUQUA: One thing, when I first read the script, I was inspired. For me as a director, making a film about slavery is daunting. Because you want to do it right and I want to do it as honestly and authentically as possible. What I found was that it was very inspiring for people. Peter’s 1863 picture inspired me to want to do the film and inspired Will to want to do the film. It seemed to inspire audiences similarly; They clapped and cheered afterwards. That’s what moved me the most.

DEADLINE: Emancipation might have become an awards season frontrunner if the unfortunate events of last Oscars night hadn’t happened. Can you share some of the discussions that took place after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock after making that joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith’s hair and the back and forth over whether to wait or release the film this year?

FUQUA: Really, I’ve always said that as a filmmaker, you want your work out there, especially something this important. It was Apple, they were pushing that behind the scenes too, trying to navigate the waters. They never stopped talking about the film’s release and when it would be strategically best. Apple called me a lot with Will and I have to say Apple was amazing throughout the film. We moved to Louisiana from Georgia and they never blinked. We’ve weathered hurricanes, covid and all that stuff.

DEADLINE: How badly did the hurricane affect your production?

FUQUA: It was the hardest film I’ve ever made. We were away for a little over a month. Almost every location we had was wiped out. We had to look for places. I was in Louisiana, I had to go to Baton Rouge, and the places I had fallen in love with were no longer there or out of reach. The people on the set, the crew that worked on the Louisiana film, some of them were homeless trying to figure out where they would stay when we got back. Again, Apple has tried to help people, but it has been a difficult thing. I had never experienced anything like this before, it was a scary thing to be around. When we came back, we were still dealing with a city that was getting back on its feet. We were still dealing with places we couldn’t reach or that would just take longer to get there. The heat didn’t help and we had to film in the swamps. So going back to the swamps was dangerous at times, but it’s funny. The new locations that we found and the others that we decided to shoot were actually better for the film. They were harsh and gave it a reality that the people living there at the time had to endure.

DEADLINE: What’s it like taking a Hollywood superstar and dumping him in a real swamp? Any near calls with snakes, alligators? How do you make sure he’s comfortable and not scared?

FUQUA: We did everything we could with alligator wranglers and snake wranglers and wolf spiders and whatever. I had some of my Navy SEAL buddies there to protect everyone. I have to give Will credit for remembering one of the first days of shooting and there was a moment where he had to run into the swamp. I think maybe we need to replace the shot because you know there’s alligators out there. I describe it to Will and he says, OK, that’s what I do. Let’s go. I thought, OK, he’s in there. And he did. A few times.

DEADLINE: I remember we met after you came back from The Magnificent Seven and a sudden torrent washed away some of your sets.

FUQUA: Maybe I have amnesia and just keep going back to the pain. There we experienced the heavy rain and the heat, but no hurricane. There was no cover here as it was an outdoor adventure. Filming in a Confederate camp, with very little cover. So we had to be outside and there were times we had to switch off for hours just to let people cool down. Apple brought in ice vests to try and keep people cool, but it was almost unbearable. We had a tornado, a hurricane. And covid. Over 300 people, sometimes 600, doing fight scenes and who couldn’t get out of their cars until tested for Covid. Me and Bob Richardson, the DP, Will, we were on set and we had to wait. We watch the sun go down and we knew we only had a certain amount of time to get what we needed. That put a lot of pressure on production.

DEADLINE: After the Oscar smack, Will was suspended from the Academy for a decade. I can imagine how much he regrets spoiling a triumphant night for him. Your reaction to the position Will went through in this film and all the people who persevered through those tough conditions and adversities?

FUQUA: [pauses]…Will Smith is a great guy. I dated him for a few years to make this film. He’s a wonderful person, a great partner and he did a great job on this film. Chris Rock is a good guy, I know Chris too… and I just pray it works out for them as friends and we can move forward.

DEADLINE: When we first unveiled this film and auction, the horrifying video of George Floyd’s death was fresh in our minds. Now that a movie is coming back, we think of those shocking photos of Emmett Till’s battered body, and there’s the Rodney King video and images of the Selma March violence. Pictures can convey so much more than words. The photos of Peter’s scourged back, taken when he joined the Union Army, went around the world. In terms of higher meaning in a film like this, which is essentially a survival story, what would you say?

FUQUA: We must know the truth to begin healing. We have a lot to heal here, but if we can watch the film with an open heart and mind and have a real conversation about the ugly brutality and reality of slavery, that could help with the healing. I think it’s important that people see that.

DEADLINE: From Training Day to many others you have made great films. What about what you’ve built upon as a filmmaker?

FUQUA: I see a lot of maturity in the work. My best movie? I said when I finished it was my strongest work and I can safely say it’s my most important film. I’ll leave that to everyone else to judge, but I feel like there’s a lot of growth in the work.

DEADLINE: And Will Smith?

FUQUA: Will is on a whole different level in this film. Unbelievable.