When Will Smith slapped Chris Rock across the face at the Oscars this year it was a shocking moment of live television, but it’s hard to imagine anybody had any idea just how big a deal it would become. Apologies have been issued and blame has been laid in every conceivable direction, but the future of Will Smith’s career is in a strange state of limbo, with several of his films on hold. This includes the upcoming movie Emancipation, which has already been shot.
Emancipation tells the true story of a Civil War-era slave named Peter, played by Will Smith, who escapes to the North and joins the Union army to fight against his former captors. The movie was directed by Antoine Fuqua and is set to be an Apple TV+ release, one that was expected to compete for many awards, but now its future is somewhat uncertain.
It was initially expected the Emancipation would be released this fall as part of the general awards season push, but due to the fallout from the Oscars debacle, it seemed like Apple might be holding off on releasing the film. As Deadline points out, the movie was never given an official release date, so there technically isn’t a delay happening here. In addition, the trade says there’s still a good chance the movie could be released later this year, or early next year. If Emancipation does plan to compete for awards we could see a limited theatrical release at the end of 2022 before the movie hits Apple TV+ in early 2023.
Early buzz is very high, calling it one of Antoine Fuqua’s best films, and praise is being given to Will Smith’s performance as well. But then that’s part of the issue. Will Smith voluntarily relinquished his membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, and he’s been banned from attending the Oscars ceremony for the next decade. This makes any movie Smith is associated with, and he’s a producer on Emancipation as well as its star, a complicated Oscar contender at best.
Following Apple’s Oscar success with CODA, one can certainly imagine the company seeing Emancipation as a strong follow up. But what’s also clear is that the movie will likely struggle as an awards contender if it released now, regardless of how good it actually is. The longer the film can wait, the better the odds for success. At the same time, the money has been spent to make the film, and the longer it sits on the shelf the more expensive it gets for Apple.
If Emancipation is kept on the shelf for a while, it certainly wouldn’t be that surprising. Several other projects that Will Smith was going to be a part of have either been delayed or outright canceled in the last few months. While not all of those decisions can be traced directly back to the Oscars slap, it is clear that Hollywood in general and Will Smith specifically are trying to figure out how to move forward from the event.
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