Emancipation is a 2022 American historical action thriller film set in Louisiana in the 1860s after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery in secessionist Confederate states. The film was directed by Antoine Fuqua and co-produced by Will Smith, who stars as a runaway slave headed for Baton Rouge. He must survive the swamps while being chased by slave catchers and their dogs. Written by William N. Collage, the biographical film is loosely based on a possibly conglomerated story of the lives of either or both of two formerly enslaved Black men named Gordon and “Whipped Peter”. That story was made famous by the photograph of a man’s bare back heavily scourged from an overseer’s whippings, published worldwide as magazine illustrations in 1863, and gave the abolitionist movement proof of the cruelty of slavery. Ben Foster stars as a ruthless slave hunter and Charmaine Bingwa as an enslaved wife and mother. The film employs an artistic desaturated color palette reminiscent of black-and-white film.
Producer Joey McFarland began researching the story in 2018, and hired Collage to write the script. The film was officially announced in June 2020, with Fuqua to direct and Smith to star. Filming was in Louisiana between July and August 2021, with Apple paying US$130 million to acquire the rights to the film, outbidding several other studios.
It was screened in Washington, D.C., on October 1, 2022, and released in select cinemas on December 2, 2022, then streamed on December 9 on Apple TV+. The film received mixed reviews from critics, who praised Smith’s performance, but criticized the screenplay and its handling of real-life events.