Apple acquires Will Smith’s ‘Emancipation’ in largest film festival deal ever

Based on a true story, the movie follows a slave named Peter who flees a Louisiana plantation and must outsmart his captors on a journey North, where he joins the Union Army.

(Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Apple Studios has secured global rights to Will Smith’s slave drama Emancipation, in a historic festival acquisition deal worth over $100 million.

The film package with director Antoine Fuqua attached was brought to the Virtual Cannes market last week. After a heated bidding war with seven other studios, including Warner Bros., Apple bagged the project for a whopping $120 million, Deadline reports.

Based on a true story, the movie follows Smith as a slave named Peter who flees a Louisiana plantation and must outsmart his captors on a journey North, where he joins the Union Army.

READ MORE: Will Smith, Warner Bros. sued over Richard Williams biopic

The story of Peter made headlines in 1863 when a photo taken of him during an Army medical examination was published. The visually-arresting image showed cars on his bare back from a brutal whipping received by an overseer on the plantation owned by John and Bridget Lyons.

“It was the first viral image of the brutality of slavery that the world saw,” Fuqua told Deadline. “Which is interesting, when you put it into perspective with today and social media and what the world is seeing, again. You can’t fix the past, but you can remind people of the past and I think we have to, in an accurate, real way,” he explained. 

Adding, “We all have to look for a brighter future for us all, for everyone. That’s one of the most important reasons to do things right now, is show our history. We have to face our truth before we can move forward.”

Fuqua noted that the Civil War-era thriller is “based on historical fact” and that writer Bill Collage “really went deep into” the “historical documents and also information from Peter’s own diaries,” he said. 

“When I read the script, I thought, what an amazing journey, a heartbreaking and heart-racing film to have an opportunity to make,” Faqua added. 

READ MORE: Will Smith, Warner Bros. sued over Richard Williams biopic

“It’s rare to have a film that, on the entertainment side, has action that I’ve never seen before, real action, a guy running through the swamps for his life, wrestling with alligators and snakes, being chased by hounds, then joining the Civil War, fighting against the Confederate army.”

Fuqua told Deadline that the image of Peter’s back “hit my heart and my soul in so many ways that are impossible to convey.”

Citing the most recent protests over racial injustice and police brutality, he added, “we’re watching some of the feeling that I had, in the streets right now. There’s sadness, there’s anger, there’s love, faith and hope as well because of what I see young people doing today.”

He continued, “They’re doing all the heavy lifting now. Black, white, brown, yellow, you name it. They’re out in the street, they’re young, and they’re standing up for their future.”

Production on Emancipation is slated to kick off in 2021.

The film will premiere in theaters and on Apple TV +.

Have you subscribed to theGrio’s new podcast “Dear Culture”? Download our newest episodes now!

Share: