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Will Smith‘s movie, Emancipation, premiered in theaters and on Apple+ TV in December 2022. This historical drama has drawn the attention of critics and filmgoers alike. Before you sit down to watch Emancipation, here are a few details about the plot, cast, and how they feel about the movie. 

‘Emancipation’ tells an important story

In Emancipation, Smith plays a fictionalized depiction of a Louisiana slave named Gordon “Whipped Peter.” Gordon was born on a Louisiana plantation in St. Landry Parish. While his birthdate is unknown, it is known that Gordon escaped his plantation in March 1863. 

Gordon put onions that he stole from the plantation in his pockets to cover up his scent and throw off the bloodhounds tracking him. He would rub his body down with onions every time he crossed a creek or swamp to cover up his scent. 

Gordon was able to travel 40 miles in about 10 days. He reached Union soldiers in Baton Rouge. He reported he escaped his plantation, and the scars on his back were from being whipped. Gordon joined the Union Army three months after the Emancipation Proclamation let freed slaves to join. He served as a guide and soldier. 

The Union Army took photographs of Gordon’s whipped back during a medical examination required for entry into the Army. These photographs were later used to raise awareness about how brutal slavery could be in the South. The Abolitionist movement used these images to further their cause. 

Emancipation is a brutal movie to watch due to the violence depicted against Smith’s character. Some people feel less violence should be shown on the big screen, particularly against Black men. The director of Emancipation, Antoine Fuqua, feels different. Fuqua told Vanity Fair:

“If we keep brushing it under the rug, there’s a chance of things happening again … We’re going to allow history to repeat itself just so we feel good at night? There’s a great saying that courage only matters when everything’s on the line, and sometimes that means being uncomfortable …

It’s part of the world we live in. You have to look at that and tell stories about those things and try to find a new way in, which I hope we did.”

Will Smith plays Gordon who’s known as ‘Whipped Peter’

Matt Dentler, Jon Mone, David Denman, Charmaine Bingwa, Will Smith, Antoine Fuqua, Ben Foster, William N. Collage and Todd Black arrive at the European premiere of "Emancipation"
Emancipation cast (L-R) Matt Dentler, Jon Mone, David Denman, Charmaine Bingwa, Will Smith, Antoine Fuqua, Ben Foster, William N. Collage, and Todd Black | Nicky J Sims/Getty Images

Smith is a well-known actor in Hollywood with a long list of movies and awards to be proud of. The 54-year-old’s starred in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-96) and movies like I Am Legend (2007), Men in Black (1997), and Independence Day (1996). He also works as a writer and producer. 

About starring in Emancipation, Smith said, “At the end of the day, Emancipation is a beautiful piece of art that we hope will help bridge the gap between people. A story that will help all of us find and desire the greatest version of ourselves. This is a movie about freedom. It’s about faith, endurance, and love. A whole lot of things that the world needs more of right now.”

Ben Foster is the tracker in ‘Emancipation’

Foster plays Jim Fassel, “a determined and ruthless Confederate tracker with a reputation of stopping at nothing to track slaves who have escaped into the marshy wilderness of southern Louisiana,” according to Cinema Blend

Foster is well known for other villain roles, including 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and The Program (2015). He’s also appeared in Hell or High Water (2016), The Messenger (2009), and Leave No Trace (2018). 

When asked what he hopes people will learn from Emancipation, Foster said:

“If the belief is held that babies are not born with hate — that hate is learned, and that once infected with hate, one could be cured or at least have a different perspective through conversation, through dialogue with one another. That is what I hope for — a conversation about our shared humanity.”

Charmaine Bingwa is Smith’s movie wife


‘Emancipation’: Why Sergeant Howard, aka Steven Ogg, Looks So Familiar

Bingwa plays the part of Gordon’s wife. She is the woman he desperately tries to find when he escapes from his plantation. 

Bingwa has been impressively growing her resume over the last few years. She’s appeared in The Good Fight (2021-22), Black Box (2020), Trees of Peace (2021), and Kapo (2022). The 37-year-old said about Emancipation:

“A cautionary tale. What can happen when hateful ideologies start to spring up in society? The thing that really moved my heart, and that I hope people get, is that it’s a love letter to our ancestors… So I just want them to know: We feel you across space and time. We respect you and we thank you for everything that you’ve given to us.”