Is the movie Emancipation based on a book?

By Miguel Fernández
Published: December 8, 2022 (Last updated: January 7, 2023)

Is the movie Emancipation based on a book? We discuss the Apple TV+ movie and the source material it is based on.

Will Smith and Antoine Fuqua are teamed up to bring Emancipation to life, their movie for Apple TV Plus that had a limited theatrical run starting on December 2nd, 2022, and will be available to stream on the platform on Dec 9th, 2022. The film depicts Smith as a slave in 1863 who escaped from his owners and went on to enlist in the Union Army, at which point he had his back photographed, showing the world the true signs of what slavery meant. Apple is expected to launch an Oscar campaign for the film and some of its players, including Fuqua, Smith, and supporting actor Ben Foster.

Is Emancipation based on a true story?

Emancipation is inspired by the set of photos taken in 1863 known as “Whipped Peter.” In particular, the film depicts the taking of one of them, referred to as “The Scourged Back,” which shows Peter’s whipped bareback. The photos were a key element in raising awareness across North America and around the world about the horrors of slavery and contributed to the overall abolitionist movement.

The film follows Will Smith as this historical character, though screenwriter William N. Collage and director Antoine Fuqua were left with the task of filling in some blanks with the help of historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar to imagine his escape from slavery and his enlistment into the Union Army. The movie begins with Smith’s Peter being separated from his family after he’s been purchased by a new owner. That sets up his main motivation for the rest of the film, to escape from slavery to come back and rescue them. While unconfirmed for now, that subplot was very likely made up for the film.

Is the movie Emancipation based on a book?

No, the film is inspired by true events (the taking of the photographs), but it is a loose adaptation of what we know about this individual and the historical events that took place during that time. History books, in general, were more influential than anyone in particular.

How many slaves were in the US at the time of Emancipation?

A title card at the end of the film says that over 400,000 Black men and women escaped to freedom after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863. That happened in the middle of the American Civil War. Two years later, just a few weeks after the surrender of the Department of the Trans-Mississippi on May 26, 1865, “4 million enslaved people in America were recognized as free.”

Is Will Smith’s Emancipation a good film?

Obviously, this is a question left to each viewer. So far, the consensus seems to be leaning positively in its favor, despite the fact that the movie isn’t without flaws. With 66 reviews, the Rotten Tomatoes critic score seems to be split, with a 52% rating. Our review called it the “kind of film that lacks character development because of its visceral and pulse-pounding nature.” Rolling Stone said about it that it is a “historically dubious, morally incurious piece of genre fare that satisfies as entertainment and not much else.” For the most part, reviews are focused on the stellar acting jobs by Will Smith and Ben Foster but do point out the movie’s lackluster script and overall lack of depth.

Have you seen Emancipation? If not, are you looking forward to it? Let us know in the comments below!

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