The battle for freedom begins with blood and is fueled by faith.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, Emancipation is based on the true story of Peter (Will Smith), a beloved husband and father during the time of slavery. When he escapes from captivity, Peter?s love for his family and commitment to faith give him the motivation that he needs to survive the Louisiana swamps on his quest for freedom.
Shot using highly stylized camera work and colour schemes, Emancipation feels like a chromatic cousin to last year?s The Tragedy of Macbeth. Although the film tells the honest and harrowing journey of one man?s quest to freedom and family, Fuqua?s use of visuals gives the tale an almost mythic feel. Using scenery drained of life and colour, the film feels like reality yet also something other at the same time. (What?s more, the simple dichotomy between black and white also serves as a visual representation of the racial tension unfolding before our eyes.) However, what does pop on the screen is the colour red which bleeds off the screen, reminding the viewer of the brutality of the moment.
In essence, Emancipation reminds us that freedom is born out of fire and blood.
In this way, Emancipation feels different than other stories set in this era. Although based on the famed photo of ?Whipped Peter?, this is not meant to be a film about facts or figures but rather one of feelings. Set in one of America?s darkest historical periods, the film features much of the heightened drama and action that we have come to expect from Smith. Sequences featuring bees, an alligator, and the elements keep the film moving and add to the emotional intensity of the moment. We are meant to be drawn into the story in a way that other films of this nature have not been able to doAs a result, Emancipation remains visually stunning and impresses with solid performances that are designed to attract Oscar Votes.
And therein lies the problem.
This is a high-quality film that?s executed effectively by everyone involved. But is the world ready to forgive Will Smith? In many ways, the greatest tragedy of the film is that it comes only eight short months since Smith?s infamous ?Slap heard round the World?. Though Smith has done his best to reconcile with audiences and with those affected from his outburst of the Oscars, there?s no doubt that there?s a certain level of awkwardness since this is the first time we?ve seen him onscreen since the incident. While understandable, this is a shame as Emancipation offers some incredible work from the Hollywood icon yet audiences may have difficulties separating the performance from the man himself.
At its heart, this is very much a film about the relationship between faith and freedom. Although the world around him is drenched in darkness, Peter remains steadfast in his belief. Where is God, if we are here?, he is chided. And one finds it hard to disagree. Peter refuses to waver his commitment to his faith and his family, despite the fact that the darkness that seeks to swallow him is immense and immeasurable. Even so, he continues to believe that there is more than what he sees. To Peter, there is good that remains, even in the midst of the worst of circumstances, and it keeps him fighting. As a result, there?s a hopefulness that pervades the film, even as it highlights the many reasons for one to give up.
While his journey is harrowing, Peter still sees hope on the others side and marches forward.
Thrilling and heart-wrenching, Emancipation is a story that is important on any number of levels. Whether it serves as a reminder of strength during times of racial tension or simply as an encouragement to keep believing, the film has much to offer audiences. So much so, in fact, that one hopes audiences can free themselves from the real-life drama that took place outside of its release.
Emanciipation is available on AppleTV+ on Friday, December 9, 2022.