Nearly a decade after passing on the title role in Quentin Tarantino‘s Django Unchained, Will Smith has signed on to play a runaway slave in Antoine Fuqua‘s action thriller Emancipation, which is being described as being closer in tone to Apocalypto than 12 Years a Slave.
Bill Collage (Exodus: Gods and Kings) wrote the script, which is based on the harrowing true story of Peter, a runaway slave whose “scourged back” went viral, in a sense, all the way back in 1863. Peter was a slave on a Louisiana plantation owned by John and Bridget Lyons and he received a brutal whipping by one of the plantation’s overseers that nearly killed him. Peter decided to flee to the North, where he joined the Union Army. When Peter showed Army doctors his back during a routine medical examination, they took photos of his scars, and one photo known as “the scourged back” was published by the Independent in May 1863, and by Harper Weekly two months later in its July 4 issue.
The photo made its way around the world and was held up as proof of the cruelty of slavery in America. It solidified the abolitionist cause, and prompted many free Blacks to join the Union Army in order to fight racists in the South.
Smith will produce with his Westbrook Studios partners James Lassiter and Jon Mone, as well as Joey McFarland of McFarland Entertainment and Todd Black of Escape Artists. Fuqua will executive produce under his Fuqua Films banner alongside Cliff Roberts.
Smith was in the middle of shooting WB’s sports drama King Richard when production was suspended around the world due to the pandemic. He will resume shooting that movie as soon as he’s able, while Fuqua will get back to his Mark Wahlberg movie Infinite, which is in post-production. Emancipation is expected to start filming early next year.
More to come…