Will Smith's first post-Oscars movie Emancipation called "powerful" and "gut-wrenching"

Will Smith in King Richard
(Image credit: Warner Bros)

Emancipation, Will Smith's next movie – and his first big-screen release since his Oscars controversy – has had its first screening, and reactions are overwhelmingly positive so far.

Directed by Training Day and Olympus Has Fallen helmer Antoine Fuqua, the movie is set in the 19th Century and follows an enslaved man named Peter (Smith) who escapes from a Louisiana plantation after being brutally whipped in search of his family. Photos of his injured back were published by the press, providing proof of the barbarity of American slavery.

"The movie Emancipation by Apple Films is a powerful & gut wrenching depiction of the horrors of slavery in America," tweeted (opens in new tab) one attendee. "Will Smith, who masterfully played the role Peter, spoke about how he (and we) hold space in this world using Peter’s life as the example." 

"I had the pleasure of watching the film Emancipation and can’t begin to tell how powerful this is for OUR community and OUR history. It’s a story of adversity, of resilience, of love, and of triumph. Thank you Antoine Fuqua and Will Smith for sharing your gifts!" said (opens in new tab) another. 

Another viewer said (opens in new tab): "This movie was EVERYTHING. The cinematography, the hidden messages... I need this in a theatre NOW." 

"Throughout my career, I’ve turned down many films that were set in slavery," Smith said at the screening in Washington DC (via The Hollywood Reporter (opens in new tab)). "I never wanted to show us like that. And then this picture came along. And this is not a film about slavery. This is a film about freedom. This is a film about resilience. This is a film about faith."

Smith hit the headlines earlier this year after he slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars when the comedian made a comment on stage about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith's hair – Pinkett Smith has alopecia. Smith later apologized, going on to address the incident in a YouTube video, but he was subsequently banned from the Oscars for the next 10 years and several of his upcoming projects, including Bad Boys 4, were reportedly shelved or delayed due to the incident.

Emancipation is set to arrive on Apple TV Plus sometime in 2023. While we wait for the movie to hit the streamer, check out our picks of the other most exciting upcoming movies on the horizon. 

Entertainment Writer

I’m an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering everything film and TV-related across the Total Film and SFX sections. I help bring you all the latest news and also the occasional feature too. I’ve previously written for publications like HuffPost and i-D after getting my NCTJ Diploma in Multimedia Journalism.