The last Academy Awards were quite a wild night for Will Smith. The actor made most of his headlines for slapping Chris Rock live on the Oscar stage, but he also won the Oscar for Best Actor the same night. At next year's Oscars ceremony, Will Smith won’t be there in person, but he might very well still be there in spirit as his next movie, Emancipation, will be eligible for nomination.
The exact fate of the new film, directed by Antoine Fuqua, had been unclear for months. While the movie was expected to be an awards contender, it had never been given an official release date, for either a theatrical run, or on Apple TV+, and so we didn’t know if it would actually be released this year or not. However, we now know that Emancipation will see a theatrical release December 2, and will follow on Apple TV+ December 9. The news came with the film's first trailer that you can watch above.
Emancipation follows Will Smith's character, an escaped slave, as he tries to work his way into the north to reunite with his family and obtain his freedom. It's a powerful an emotional trailer to be sure. It certainly looks like the kind of movie we would expect to do well with awards season voters.
Considering that many other Will Smith movie projects have been put on hold since the events of this year’s Oscars, it’s not that much of a surprise that Apple wouldn’t be quite sure how to best handle Emancipation’s release. Early reports are that the movie is really good, but one wonders what kind of response it will get from the Academy simply because it’s a Will Smith movie in the year after “the slap.”
If Will Smith’s performance in Emancipation is great, and based on this trailer, it could very well be, it might be talked about in the Best Actor race. Of course, that conversation becomes tougher now. Nominating Smith the year after he slapped somebody at the show would be a controversial move.
It only becomes more controversial if he were to win, considering he's been banned from attending the Oscars ceremony for the next decade, so he wouldn't even be there to accept the award or give a speech. Having said that, while a nomination under other circumstances might have been at least possible, it seems all but impossible now.
At the same time, great movies are not made in a vacuum, and there are dozens of other people who may potentially be worthy of awards consideration in Emancipation as well, not least of which being director Antoine Fuqua. Releasing the movie in December gives Fuqua and everybody else the chance to be recognized for their own work, and to not have that change diminished due to any problems between the Academy and Smith.
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