Will Smith Has First Post-Slap Film Screening

Will Smith and Antoine Fuqua screened their new film Emancipation last night, marking one of Smith's first public appearances since last year's Academy Awards debacle. The star has seen some pretty serious blowback from the Hollywood establishment after he walked on stage and slapped Oscar host Chris Rock last year, but it seems as if Apple is set to become the first company to roll the dice and figure out whether Hollywood is ready to welcome Smith back yet. While there's no official date set for Emancipation yet, Deadline is speculating that last night's screening for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's 51st annual Legislative Conference likely means the movie will drop later this year, in time for awards consideration.

If not for "the slap," Emancipation would likely be a frontrunner for Oscar contention. Now, Smith himself is barred from attending the ceremony for a decade, and his presence likely hurts the movie's chances of winning anything big.

Emancipation is based on the life of Peter, a runaway slave who joined up with the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. Per its synopsis (via the Deadline story), "after recovering from a whipping that nearly killed him, braved the swamps of Louisiana armed with only his wits, to escape cold-blooded slave hunters and be free."

The photos of Peter's injuries circulated at the time, and helped push public opinion away from slavery. 

Apple Original Films and the NAACP hosted the screening for a group of members from the community representing groups that included the Congressional Black Caucus, Historically Black College and Universities, the Divine 9 (Historically Black Fraternities and Sororities), National Council of Negro Women, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Power Rising, #WinWithBlackWomen and other members of the Black activist community.

The film shot in early 2021 in Louisiana, where the story is set. Originally, the plan was to film in Georgia to take advantage of the state's tax credits, but the movie pulled out of the state due to voting restrictions being implemented by Governor Brian Kemp. The restrictions seem to primarily impact underrepresented communities, which makes it hard to justify filming a movie like Emancipation there. At the time, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams criticized Hollywood's moves out of Georgia at the time, saying in part that "Boycotts work best when the target of your boycott is responsive," and that Kemp would not be as impacted by boycotting Georgia as everyday citizens. Vigilante, an upcoming documentary from investigative reporter Greg Palast, takes aim at Georgia's voting issues.

No word yet on Emancipation's release date.

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