How to watch Will Smith’s new movie Emancipation in New Zealand

To be fair, no-one really believed we’d have to wait too long to see Will Smith back on the big screen after he gave Chris Rock a slappin’ at the Oscars. In the hierarchy of celebrity scandals, the only thing really notable about it was the public stage it took place on. And now here’s the proof, as Will Smith’s new movie Emancipation hits Apple TV+ on December 9.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Magnificent Seven) from a spec script by newcomer William N. Collage, Emancipation tells the story of Peter (Smith), a horrifically abused enslaved man who escapes from a Louisiana plantation and heads north to join the Union Army and fight in the American Civil War. Ben Foster (3.10 to Yuma, Leave No Trace) is the slave hunter on his trail, while Australian actor Charmaine Bingwa (Nekrotronic, The Good Fight) is Dodienne, Peter’s wife.

Emancipation is based on a true story—the real Peter (or possibly Gordon—records are sketchy, although the essential facts are unassailable) was photographed for the magazine Harper’s Weekly, and the image of his shockingly scarred back was a lightning rod for Abolitionism. But despite its heavy subject matter it’s being touted as an action movie, which makes sense with action specialist Fuqua at the helm. Other than that, details are being kept under wraps.

Funnily enough, Will Smith knocked back the starring role in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained a decade ago, citing issues with the script’s violence. So it’s interesting to speculate how Emancipation, which has clear narrative parallels, differs in tone, intent, and impact from QT’s hyper-violent bounty hunter bloodbath.

While the trailer for Emancipation cants towards somber seriousness, a glance at Antoine Fuqua’s body of work clearly demonstrates he’s not averse to a bit of highly stylised, squib-heavy cinematic action. Will he be operating in that mode here or will the subject matter push him towards a more restrained approach?