Will Smith is set to compete for next year’s best actor with the surprise announcement that his slavery thriller Emancipation will be released in December.
The Apple film, directed by Training Day’s Antoine Fuqua, had originally been slated for a 2022 release but was shelved after the actor slapped Chris Rock at this year’s Oscars ceremony before he went on to win best actor for his role in King Richard.
Emancipation, which is reported to have a $120m budget, is based on the true story of an enslaved person who escaped a Louisiana plantation in the 1860s and made his way to the north, to join the Union army. Ben Foster, Steven Ogg and Charmaine Bingwa also star.
The film was screened last night in Washington as part of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Legislative Conference and a trailer was released today along with a 2 December theatrical release date before heading to Apple TV+ on 9 December.
“Will Smith is a great guy,” Fuqua said to Deadline. “I was with him for a couple of years, making this movie. He is a wonderful person, 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.”
Smith, who had previously turned down the lead in Django Unchained explained that he was resistant to starring in a film about slavery as he wanted to “depict Black excellence” instead.
“This was one that was about love and the power of Black love,” he said of Emancipation. “And that was something that I could rock with. We were going to make a story about how Black love makes us invincible.”
Smith posted a video in July to apologise for his behaviour at the Oscars, saying he was “deeply remorseful”. Rock later dismissed it as a “hostage video”.
A study showed that Smith’s popularity suffered “a very significant and precipitous decline” after the incident. The actor has been banned from attending any Academy event for 10 years.
The actor will compete against current favourites for the prize including Brendan Fraser for The Whale and Colin Farrell for The Banshees of Inisherin. Last year Apple won the best picture Oscar for the family drama Coda.