Though the pair has been developing it for the last couple of years, a new film from director Antoine Fuqua and star Will Smith couldn't be more timely (or timeless). They're putting the pieces together for Emancipation, a new, based-on-truth historical story.
William N. collage has written the script for the movie, which will see Smith star as Peter, a slave who escaped his brutal masters, outwitted hunters and journeyed through the treacherous swamps of Louisiana to join the Union Army in the North. When Peter showed his bare back during an Army medical examination, photos were taken of the scars from a whipping delivered by an overseer on the plantation owned by John and Bridget Lyons that nearly killed the slave. When the photo known as "the scourged back" was published by the Independent in May, 1863 and then Harper’s Weekly’s July 4 issue, it became indisputable proof of the cruelty and barbarity of slavery in America. The photo reached around the world, and legend has it that it made countries like France refuse to buy cotton from the South. It solidified the cause of abolitionists and prompted many free blacks to join the Union Army.
"It was the first viral image of the brutality of slavery that the world saw,” Fuqua tells 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. 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." For more from the director, head to Deadline's site.
The aim is to start shooting the movie early next year, Coronavirus-permitting. Smith still has to finish work on King Richard, about the father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, which was shut down when the pandemic took hold. Fuqua, meanwhile, has continued to edit his next movie, Infinite.