With Apple TV's Emancipation, Will Smith returns to his first major role since the Oscar Slapgate

Ayaan Paul
Ayaan PaulOct 04, 2022 | 16:50

With Apple TV's Emancipation, Will Smith returns to his first major role since the Oscar Slapgate

The prodigal Fresh Prince returns in a stunning new teaser for Apple TV’s slave narrative, Emancipation. Here's a retrospective on the actors road to recovery following the infamous incident at the 2022 Oscars.

The historical drama follows Smith in the lead role as Peter - a slave on the run from a Louisiana plantation, braving wildlife, slave owners and the brewing civil conflicts, to make his way up North towards his freedom.

Here is the teaser for the Apple TV original:

The character of Peter draws inspiration from the real life encounters of the emancipated slave named Gordon, who having escaped with his life after suffering severe whipings, served as photographic evidence of documenting the extensive keloid scarring of his back from whippings received while enslaved.

"Scourged Back" photographed by Mathew Benjamin Brady in 1863

The famous ‘Scourged Back’ photograph was widely circulated during the abolitionist movement in an attempt to demonstrate the unspeakable cruelty of slavery and put an end to it once and for all.

Director Antoine Fuqua - best known for directing the late rapper Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise” music video, the Oscar-winning feature Training Day, starring Denzel Washington, and most recently, the Netflix remake of the Danish thriller The Guilty - has helmed the production.

Following his role in King Richard as Richard Williams - the father of Serena and Venus Williams - for which he won his first Academy Award, Emancipation marks Will Smith’s first major role since the Oscar fiasco earlier this year.

For those who have successfully evaded one of the biggest on-screen debacles of the year, the incident occured when Smith walked onstage, mid-ceremony and slapped comedian Chris Rock for his comments on Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith on live television. 

What started as a joke in considerably poor taste while Rock presented an Oscar, escalated into physical and verbal aggression from an out-of-control Smith, and was live telecast for the entire world to witness.

“With a single petulant blow, Will advocated violence, diminished women, insulted the entertainment industry and perpetuated stereotypes about the Black community.”
- Kareem Abdul Jabbar for Substack

Only a few moments later, Smith walked on the very same stage to accept his Oscar for Best Actor where he proclaimed, “love will make you do crazy things”.

“I know to do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse, have people talk crazy about you. In this business you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you and you gotta smile and pretend like that’s okay.”
- Will Smith during his Oscar acceptance speech

The aftermath of the incident saw the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revoking Smith’s membership for a decade and also saw him banned from attending the ceremony for the same period of time. 

The Slapgate was the talk of the town for months after it occurred, sending the internet into a furore over Smith’s culpability as well as Rock’s history of problematic comments under the garb of performative comedy.

Smith has since taken a long sabbatical from public appearances and social media after having posted a public apology to Rock, the Academy as well as the Williams family.

Having remained AWOL for over three months since, Smith finally broke his silence with a video titled “It’s been a minute…”

Smith takes what he claims to have been questions posed to him by his fans and answers them over the span of the five-minute video, apologising to Rock. His family, his fellow nominees at the ceremony and his fans.

The apology video received divisive responses, many lauding Smith for his efforts to make things right while others slamming the video as insincere and self-centred. 

Rock himself reacted to the apology video while on tour for his comedy special,

“Everybody is trying to be a f***ing victim. If everybody claims to be a victim then nobody will hear the real victims. Even me getting smacked by Suge Smith. I went to work the next day, I got kids.”
- Chris Rock reacts to Will Smith’s apology video

Smith has since revitalised his online presence, resuming his activity on Instagram and now, returning to the limelight with the announcement of Emancipation.

The timing for the film's release strategically places the film as Apple TV’s ostensible contender at next year’s Oscars, following Apple TV’s first win with the previous year’s Best Picture winner CODA. Whether or not Smith’s involvement in the film will affect its running during the awards race is still up for debate.

Emancipation streams on Apple TV on December 9, 2022.

Last updated: October 04, 2022 | 16:50
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