Will Smith took the podium on Saturday to speak about his involvement in Antoine Fuqua’s new film Emancipation.
The first screening of the film was shown during the Apple and NAACP hosted Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 51st Annual Legislative Conference. Shortly thereafter there was a conversation between Fuqua, Smith, Mary Elliot, and Angela Rye about the film. This was Smith’s first interaction with a public crowd since the infamous slap that struck Chris Rock at the 94th Oscars. Which following the slap, Smith was banned 10 years from the event.
Will Smith didn’t address the incident at any point during saturday’s conversation.
“Throughout my career, I’ve turned down many films that were set in slavery,” Smith said at the screening. “I never wanted to show us like that. And then this picture came along. And this is not a film about slavery. This is a film about freedom. This is a film about resilience. This is a film about faith.”
“This is a film about the heart of a man — what could be called the first viral image. Cameras had just been created, and the image of whipped Peter went around the world. It was a rallying cry against slavery, and this was a story that exploded and blossomed in my heart that I wanted to be able to deliver to you in a way that only Antoine Fuqua could deliver.”
The film is based on the true story of Peter, a runaway slave in search for his family through the muddy waters of Louisiana.
The photo of “Whipped Peter” was first taken after Peter joined the Union Army. During a medical examination his back showed vicious scars from a whipping at the hands of his former plantation’s overseer. The photo now stands with the Library of Congress as another example slavery’s cruelty.
Emancipation is scheduled to be released on Apple TV+ in 2023.