- Will Smith , Ben Foster, Steven Ogg, David Dennan
- Written by
- Bill Collage
- Directed by
- Antoine Fuqua
- Run Time
- 2h 12min
- Release Date
- December 9th, 2022
While most movies are made for entertainment purposes, some are meant to tell stories and share images that we will not forget. Emancipation is such a movie, as it shines a light at the horrors that was slavery in the American South. Promoted as the story of “ Whipped Peter” a slave whose photo of his whipped back became a rallying cry against slavery in 1863. There though is more to Peter than just that photo and screenwriter Bill Collage brings to stirring life what lead up to that picture.
Peter (Will Smith) just wants to take care of his family, which includes his wife Dodienne (Charmaine Bingwa) and their children. That gets difficult when his owner sells him to someone else and as he is taken to his new owner, his parting words are to stay together at all cost. Peter might be perceived as quiet at first glance, but make no mistake he is a fighter and even fights for the ones who can’t. At his new location he is helping to build a rail for the Confederate Army and it seems those who control things are there to complete the job, no matter what the cost may be. One particular man has taken an interests in Peter, his name is Jim Fassel (Ben Foster) and his job is to chase down the runners who escape. One day his plan changes as he hears two men talking about Lincoln freeing the slaves, it is with that and the attention that Jim Fassel is giving him that tells Peter what he must do. He starts to spread the word about their freedom and most plan to escape when it is time, and when Peter finds that moment, it is a race for his freedom and for him to get back to his family.
Writer Collage takes a simple approach in telling the story where really the images say more than any words could ever do. And Director Antoine Fuqua pulls no punches as he puts the physical punishment on full display. Everything from the beatings to branding, it is all showed in gory fashion, which also includes brutal executions. Much like another film that deals with atrocities visited on an entire race in Schindler’s List, Emancipation like that classic is also shot in a bleached out near monochrome, but there are some light colors that show up and the movies palette is as if it is somewhere between B&W and color. The end result is a film that is absolutely beautiful as there are some jaw dropping shots in this movie that is further enhanced by cinematographer Robert Richardson ‘s work.
Emancipation is above all else a tale of perseverance in the face of cruelty that seems unfathomable. Smith as Peter, gives one of his best performances of his career and makes you wonder why he never tackled a role like this before. What it doesn’t do is add anything new to the decades old conversation. But that may not be the point. What it does is add another heart-wrenching story to the millions of voices that were ignored for so many years. And while it treads no new ground, it still manages to tell a compelling story of survival in a time when the freedom that America fought for was not equal to all men as it was declared almost 100 years before. That coupled with the performance of Smith and the look of the movie, Emancipation really does feel like a must-watch.