emancipation

Although both Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua are in the middle of productions halted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the pair have already lined up a particularly timely project together. Smith and Fuqua are teaming up for the runaway slave thriller Emancipation, based on the true story of Peter, a runaway slave who would escape the Louisiana swamps and join the Union Army.

Variety reports that Will Smith is set to star in the thriller Emancipation, which will be directed by Antoine Fuqua (The Magnificent Seven) from the script by William N. Collage.

The film tells the true story of Peter, a runaway slave “forced to outwit cold-blooded hunters and the punishing Louisiana swamp on a tortuous journey to the Union Army and his only chance at freedom.” Peter, real name Gordon, became famous for the photographs taken of his back showing horrific scarring from whippings he received while enslaved — earning him the nickname “Whipped Peter.” The photographs were widely circulated during the Civil War and became visual evidence of brutal treatment of slaves, inspiring many free blacks to join the Union Army. Gordon would later join the Union Army’s United States Colored Troops.

Both Smith and Fuqua were in the middle of productions that were temporarily halted by the coronavirus pandemic, with Smith partway through filming the Warner Bros. biopic King Richard about tennis icons Venus and Serena Williams, while Fuqua was in post-production on the Paramount action thriller Infinite. However, with Hollywood slowly resuming film and TV productions, with extra coronavirus precautions, Smith and Fuqua’s respective projects should wrap soon, allowing the pair to begin production on Emancipation in early 2021.

The project is especially timely in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the nation after the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police. Hollywood has been taking major action to reform its diversity practices to be more inclusive, and it was only a matter of time before feature film projects tackling racism began getting the green light by studios.

Smith, James Lassiter and Jon Mone will produce Emancipation through Westbrook Studios, along with McFarland Entertainment’s Joey McFarland and Escape Artists’ Todd Black. Fuqua will executive produce under his Fuqua Films banner, alongside Cliff Roberts. CAA Media Finance, which arranged the financing for the film, represents the U.S. rights for Emancipation while Film Nation Entertainment represents international sales. The movie will also be introduced to buyers at the upcoming virtual Cannes market.

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