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.
“Of course I wanted people to see the film,” Fuqua told the publication. “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 think Apple considered all those things, and we discussed a lot of those things. Then, a decision was made by the people in charge of distribution and the money at Apple — and I’m 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 to me at all because I was with Will for two years, and I haven’t met a nicer human being. I’m being honest about it. He was kind to everyone on the set.”
He continued, “So, I saw a different person than that one moment in time, and so my reaction was that particular moment is very foreign to me when it comes to Will Smith. I have nothing but amazing things to say about Will Smith, really genuinely. You can ask anybody that worked on the movie, they’ll tell you the same. Nicest person I’ve ever met in my life. Chris Rock — I know Chris — Chris is a good guy too. I’ve spent time with Chris, and I think it’s an unfortunate event, and I hope we can move forward and get past 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 stars Smith as Peter, a slave who escapes to the North and joins the Union Army, and whose scars from a near-fatal whipping are depicted in a photograph that helps strengthen the abolitionist movement.
“It’s really hard to release a character who’s been brutalized and called the N-word every day — constantly, every day — and still be the nicest person in the world,” the Training Day helmer continued. “That, I know. So no excuses for anyone or anything, but I can say that he’s a good man, and I hope that people can forgive him and that we can move forward. I hope Chris and Will find a way to sit together publicly, privately, whatever, and make amends. 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.”