‘Emancipation’ Director Defends Release of Will Smith Film After Oscars Slap: “More Important Than One Bad Moment”

‘Emancipation’ Director Defends Release of Will Smith Film After Oscars Slap: “More Important Than One Bad Moment”

Antoine Fuqua is hopeful that viewers will give his forthcoming movie Emancipation a chance as it prepares for release less than a year after Will Smith made headlines for slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony.

During an interview with Vanity Fair that published online Tuesday, the director said that no one involved in the film ever had a conversation “about the movie not coming out” but that Apple, which is behind the release, was “very careful” in assessing the situation and listening to various opinions surrounding it. Emancipation, set for theatrical release Dec. 2 before it starts streaming Dec. 9 on Apple TV , marks Smith’s first major project since the incident and will allow the industry a chance to gauge whether audiences are ready to put the slap in the past.

Fuqua stated that he wanted people to see the film. “My conversation was always, ‘Isn’t 400 years of slavery, of brutality, more important than one bad moment?’ We were in Hollywood, and there’s been some really ugly things that have taken place, and we’ve seen a lot of people get awards that have done some really nasty things. So, I believe Apple considered all of those things and we discussed many of them. The people in charge distribution and money at Apple made a decision. I am grateful. I’m really grateful.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Fuqua said he had a tough time reconciling the high-profile moment from the Oscars ceremony on March 27 with the friendly on-set persona that he saw Smith exhibit while filming the slavery-themed drama. The filmmaker explained that the slap didn’t feel real because he was close to Will for two years and he has never met a nicer person. It was honest. He was kind to everyone.”

He continued, “So I saw a different man than that one moment in the time, and so my reaction to that particular moment was that it is very foreign for me when it comes down to Will Smith.” Will Smith is an amazing person. Ask anyone who worked on the movie and they’ll tell the same. Nicest person I’ve ever met in my life. Chris Rock — Chris is a good friend of mine. Chris is a friend of mine. I find it unfortunate, but I hope we can work together to move on and get over it.

Fuqua explained that the Oscars ceremony, during which Smith earned the best actor Oscar for King Richard, came at the end of a grueling Emancipation shoot. The fact-based drama features Smith as Peter, a slave who escapes into the North and joins Union Army. His scars from near-fatal whipping is depicted in a photograph that aids in strengthening the abolitionist movement.

“It’s really difficult to release a character that’s been brutalized, called the N-word everyday — continuously, every day — and yet be the nicest person on the planet,” the Training Day helmer said. “I know that. There are no excuses for anyone or everything, but I can tell you that he is a good man and I hope people forgive him so that we can move on. I hope Chris will find a way for Will and Will to reconcile, whether it be publicly or privately. I think it would be an incredible statement.”

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that published over the summer, Fuqua shared his hope for Emancipation: “I would like audiences to see the truth and be inspired by it.”

Read More