Where to watch: Apple TV+, in theaters
Premiere Date: Dec. 9
Will Smith may snag back Oscar notice for his fervent lead performance in Emancipation, the film from acclaimed action-thriller director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer, Training Day). Inspired by the true story of the 1863 “Scourged Back” photograph, the movie chronicles an enslaved man’s treacherous escape from bondage, which led to his becoming an American Civil War serviceman and an icon of the abolition movement.
Emancipation is coming to streaming, which means you can take in this powerful watch from home. Here’s what you need to know.
How can I watch Emancipation?
Emancipation premieres in theaters on Dec. 2 with a global release on Apple TV+ on Dec. 9.
‘Emancipation’ trailer sees Will Smith taking on the harrowing story behind ‘The Scourged Back’
What is Emancipation about?
Set in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which declared free any slaves living in states that were not under Union control, Emancipation follows the story of Gordon, nicknamed “whipped Peter,” and his escape from a Louisiana plantation. Peter’s whipped and welted back was photographed, revealing a mass of scars given by his barbaric overseer and shedding light upon the inhumane brutalities of enslavement. Once seen by the public, the image further fueled the race for abolition.
The Civil War-era action-thriller illustrates a harrowing piece of American history and the daunting act of fleeing the many obstacles that kept captives enslaved. Packed with action sequences, heroism, and a powerful performance from Smith, the film is sure to strike the hearts and minds of viewers everywhere.
What have critics said about Emancipation?
New York Times co-chief film critic Manohla Dargis writes that “Peter’s story and Smith’s warmth carry you through this movie, which has heart and conviction and toughness.”
Addressing the film industry’s common mistake of reverting to exploitative narratives or stories that romanticize plantations (i.e., Gone With the Wind), Dargis notes that the movie provides “a necessary corrective to the familiar, big-screen fictions about the American slave trade” alongside the much enjoyed “propulsive, Hollywood-style action-fueled adventure.”