The Reel Critic: Will Smith and Director Antoine Fuqua Discuss Freedom and ‘Emancipation’
Written by Vocalo Radio on January 6, 2023
Pictured above: Will Smith and Antoine Fuqua pose for photographers upon arrival for the premiere of the film ‘Emancipation’ in London, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)
As part of a roundtable discussion with the African-American Film Critics Association, Reggie “The Reel Critic” Ponder virtually sat down with Emancipation Director Antoine Fuqua and film lead, Oscar-nominated actor Will Smith, to discuss the film and the concepts that helped bring it to life.
Emancipation is inspired by the true story of Peter Smith, an enslaved man played by Will Smith, fighting for his freedom after fleeing a Louisiana Plantation. Fuqua and Smith discuss the role religion plays in Peter Smith’s character, and how Peter uses it to persevere and become his own hero.
“Until I met Peter and interacted with Peter, I did not understand the Christian ethic,” explained Will Smith. “I did not understand what my grandmother was trying to teach me, until I got to embody Peter.”
Faith and overcoming fear are strong themes in the film, and play a big role in Peter Smith’s character. While it brought Will Smith closer to the character of Peter, it also allowed Fuqua to share his own concept of freedom.
“Freedom is your mind and your spirit,” Fuqua said. “Peter was free in his spirit and free in his mind… We got to free ourselves, right? Of all the baggage, not just physical, all the baggage. That’s what freedom means to me.”
Emancipation was initially released on December 9, and is currently in theaters and streaming on AppleTV+. Hear an excerpt from Reggie’s conversation with Will Smith and Antoine Fuqua during a virtual roundtable with the African-American Film Critics Association on Spotify, and stream the full roundtable discussion on YouTube below.
Reggie Ponder: Hey, this is Reggie Ponder, The Reel Critic. I got a chance to speak with Will Smith and Antoine Fuqua about their new movie emancipation, which can be seen on AppleTV+. Here’s an excerpt from that interview.
My question is to Antoine and Will. There’s a discussion that’s happening in this film about freedom, whether you’re free, whether you’re not, and Antoine, I’d like to get your thoughts on why you had that included, and Will, what you think about that whole concept of freedom.
Antoine Fuqua: You know, freedom is your mind and your spirit. Peter was free in his spirit and free in his mind. When he was whipped, we discovered that he was in a coma for three months. He said that’s where he saw God, he met God. So he was free, his body was in bondage, but he was free.
The idea of freedom also means that you got to fight for freedom. And part of the message that we wanted to tell with this character, Peter, is that he frees himself. He frees himself. There’s nobody coming to the rescue, right?
When Peter says, “We must fight,” that’s what I’m trying to tell you. We got to free ourselves, right? Of all the baggage, not just physical, all the baggage. That’s what freedom means to me.
Will Smith: Yeah. And… that same concept… I have described Peter as a spiritual warrior. And Peter’s fight for freedom, the central fight was within himself. And the central freedom was from doubt. He was not going to doubt God, that he was going to trust and he was going to surrender. And he was going to believe the commitment of God that whatever Peter is experiencing, he was taking it as a divine benefit. And he understood the relationship between suffering and salvation. And he believed fully that if he just submitted to God — and there’s a moment in the film that I love so much that depicts it. It’s in the middle of all of the hell, Peter stops and he just puts his hands up, and he finds the ability to be able to praise God and have gratitude in the middle of this hell that he had been sucked into.
I was raised in a Baptist household and went to a Catholic school and, until I met Peter and interacted with Peter, I did not understand the Christian ethic. I did not understand the journey of Christ. I did not understand what my grandmother was trying to teach me, until I got to embody Peter.
Reggie Ponder: Thank you so much.
To hear more from Fuqua and Smith about the movie Emancipation, you can go to the AAFCA YouTube channel, that’s AAFCA and listen to the AAFCA Roundtable. You can find me on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube @TheReelCritic, that’s R-E-E-L, and I’ll see you next time.
RELATED: The Reel Critic Reviews ‘Emancipation’
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“The Reel Critic” is hosted and produced by Reggie Ponder
Introduction written by Joshua X. Miller
Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
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