Almost nine months on from the infamous slap at this year's Oscars ceremony, Will Smith returns to our screens with the lead performance in new Apple TV+ film Emancipation – which tells the story of Peter, a slave who flees a Louisiana plantation after he is brutally whipped.


The film – which was shot before the Academy Awards incident – is directed by Training Day and The Equalizer filmmaker Antoine Fuqua, and speaking exclusively to he said that he hopes viewers are able to put the slap to one side while watching it.

“Working with Will was amazing, and you couldn't ask for a better partner in this situation as well," he said. "I think he was perfect for the role, he did an incredible job. It's like a whole other level, as an artist, as an actor – so I couldn't say enough about Will, during the filming and behind the camera, just an amazing person."

He added: "It's hard to say what people will see or not see, I always hope for the best, right? You hope for the best. Because there are 400 other people that were involved with making the movie as well that did hard work – all the way down to the PAs and the people who made his food every day.

"They were there every day in the swamps with us. So you want the work to be appreciated for just what it is. But I believe – naturally, I'm the director – that if they go see Will in this movie that he disappears in the role and it becomes immersive, his performance. And that's what I hope for."

More like this

Meanwhile, co-star Charmaine Bingwa – who plays Peter's wife Dodienne in the movie – said that working with both Smith and Fuqua was "everything [she] had hoped and dreamed".

She said: "Just starting with Antoine, he is amazing as an artist, he is such an auteur, he has a very singular vision. And he just works from the soul. You know, there were times when he would take Peter's photograph and show the background actors so that even they could be engaged at such a deep, visceral level. And I think it comes out in the film.

"And Will as well, he goes through so much through this film – it's very gruelling, he's carrying the film on his shoulders, and he just led in such an inspiring way."

Charmaine Bingwa as Dodienne in Emancipation
Charmaine Bingwa as Dodienne in Emancipation. Apple

The film can be a very tough watch at times – never shying away from showing the brutality of the situation – and Fuqua explained that there was a "full conversation" regarding how much violence it was appropriate to show.

"How much blood? How much do you need? Does it move the story forward? What is it saying, really? " he said. "In this particular case, it was a constant sort of discussion about why, and I think the balance was that you can't flinch when it comes to this sort of subject matter, you have to show the brutality because that's what it was.

"But you don't want to completely turn people off who are there just to be entertained as well. So, you know, the colour palette is a conversation, the timing of those things, how long they're on the screen, are conversations.

"So yeah, it's a very heavy conversation that I find helpful, because, for me, I just go right at it, I want to just give it to you. But then I have producers and executives, and we always had great discussions about the balance of those things."

Emancipation is released on Apple TV+ and in select cinemas on Friday 9th December 2022 – you can sign up to Apple TV+ here.

You can find something to watch with our TV Guide and Streaming Guide, or visit our Film hub for all the latest news and features.


The latest issue of Radio Times magazine is on sale now – subscribe now. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times View From My Sofa podcast.