Apple lands Will Smith and Antoine Fuqua’s ‘Emancipation’ film about slavery

Will Smith will star in "Emancipation," which Apple Original Films has bought for $105 million.
(Thibault Camus / Associated Press)

“Emancipation,” Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua’s forthcoming film about slavery, has landed at Apple Original Films after a massive bidding war.

Apple bought the project for $105 million, outbidding six other parties, the Los Angeles Times confirmed Wednesday. Deadline first reported the news.

The period drama, based on a script by William N. Collage, will star Smith as Peter, a fugitive from slavery on a harrowing journey north from Louisiana. The character is modeled after Gordon, or “Whipped Peter,” an enslaved person who emancipated himself from a Southern plantation and joined the Union Army.

In 1863, photos taken of Gordon during an Army medical examination appeared in the Independent and in the July 4 issue of Harper’s Weekly. Known as “The Scourged Back,” one image shows Gordon’s bare back, mutilated by a whipping delivered on the plantation of enslavers John and Bridget Lyons.


The widely shared portrait served as photographic evidence of the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery in America, further fueling the abolitionist movement.

“Emancipation” is one of multiple highly anticipated projects acquired recently by Apple. In May, the tech and entertainment giant nabbed Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” while Tom Hanks’ “Greyhound” is set to premiere on the streaming platform later this month.

Apple TV+ has joined a list of streaming sites that are offering free programs without a subscription. Watch ‘Dickinson’ or the thriller ‘Servant’ from M. Night Shyamalan.

April 10, 2020

Apple’s heads of worldwide video, Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, have a long-running relationship with the Smith family after collaborating for years with Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith and their producing partners on a number of projects, including “Hawthorne,” “The Queen Latifah Show” and “Hala.”

Coming to theaters and Apple TV+, “Emancipation” will be produced by Apple Studios, alongside Smith, through Westbrook Studios, Fuqua and his Fuqua Films, Todd Black and Escape Artists and Joey McFarland via McFarland Entertainment.