Emancipation Has A Story Too Important To Not Be Released, Acording To Director Antoine Fuqua

When Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars, it quickly became the most tedious topic of discussion on the internet. To even revisit the topic months later feels like beating a dead horse, but the reaction to the incident flabbergasts me to this day.

I'm not going to reiterate the details of the incident itself. Unless you live off the grid or were in a deep coma in March of 2022, you've likely seen and heard every possible description of the event. Even as a person who's fairly disinterested in award shows, I found my social media feeds and group chats inundated with details and discussions of the event.

Like anything that's discussed on the internet, the discussion seemed to quickly become a contest to come up with the most exhausting take on the situation. The initial chorus of LMAOs quickly gave way to celebrity overreactions and sanctimonious finger-wagging. Believe me, I think that physically assaulting people is bad, but the amount of discourse that slap sparked has blown the issue wildly out of proportion. It overshadowed the rest of the Oscar show, including the fact that Will Smith actually won the Best Actor Oscar that same night.

Somehow, months later, the shadow of the incident continues to loom, specifically over Antoine Fuqua's film "Emancipation," which features Smith in a lead role. The film's release was postponed, and is now set for December on Apple TV+. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Fuqua spoke out about the film's delay, and how he believes one mistake by Smith shouldn't postpone a movie he believes contains a much more important message.

'Of course I wanted people to see the film'

Smith has already faced the consequences for what he did. Rock declined to press charges, but Smith was banned from The Academy Awards for 10 years. It's a punishment that, frankly, feels absurd when you remember that people accused of far more serious crimes like domestic violence and sexual abuse have not faced these sorts of publicly announced bans.

Whatever your opinion on the matter, punishing Smith alone for what he did makes some amount of sense. What's puzzling is the consequences faced by the entire cast and crew of "Emancipation," a film whose only crime is featuring Smith and finishing production before the incident at the Oscars.

In his interview with THR, Fuqua talks about his struggles to release his film following the incident:

"Of course I wanted people to see the film. My conversation was always, 'Isn't 400 years of slavery, of brutality, more important than one bad moment?' We were in Hollywood, and there's been some really ugly things that have taken place, and we've seen a lot of people get awards that have done some really nasty things."

The fact of the matter is Smith wasn't the only person who worked on "Emancipation." There was a whole cast of actors, a crew of probably hundreds of people, who all put in a ton of hard work to make a film they were proud of. The fact that they had trouble getting the film released when people like Roman Polanski are still allowed to make films is a bit troubling.

Playing by a different set of rules

Luckily for Fuqua and everybody else who worked on the film, Apple TV+ — which had initially delayed "Emancipation" to 2023 — has decided to premiere the film in 2022 instead. Speaking to THR, Fuqua explained what this meant to him:

"So, I think Apple considered all those things, and we discussed a lot of those things. Then, a decision was made by the people in charge of distribution and the money at Apple — and I'm grateful. I'm really grateful."

I'm glad that the film will finally get its release, but the fact that things ever went this far is pretty infuriating. I don't think it's a huge jump to say that part of the reason that Smith received such universal condemnation and harsh punishment for this incident, when he's hardly the only actor who's assaulted somebody, was because he is a Black man. The fact that a film that covers a topic as serious and significant as slavery, with Black stars and a Black director, just adds fuel to that fire. (One can only speculate as to what might have happened, had Smith starred in, say, a Marvel Studios film pending release instead.) It seems that, just as it always has been, the rules in Hollywood are very different for Black actors and creatives.

"Emancipation" will open in select theaters on December 2, 2022, before streaming on Apple TV+ one week later.