Charmaine Bingwa stars alongside Will Smith as his wife Dodienne in Emancipation, which is now available on Apple TV+.

Emancipation follows a slave named Peter (Smith) who has been sold to the Confederate Army to help build a railroad. Peter, desperate to get back to his family, runs away and fights through the challenges and creatures he comes across in the swamps of Louisiana to escape the plantation owners that are out to kill him. His family, including his wife Dodienne and his children, stayed behind at the plantation, and his love for them and his faith in God are what keep him going throughout his tortuous journey.

The film is loosely based on the real-life story of Gordon, a former slave whose photographs of his bare back, heavily scarred from multiple whippings, have become historical and known as “Whipped Peter.” The photographs were published worldwide in 1863, giving the abolitionist movement proof of the cruelty of slavery that was happening in the United States. 

Because it was set in the time period of slavery, the film has its fair share of impactful and painful scenes. Movie fans have had valid criticism over the years regarding films that center around slaves, saying they are trauma porn or Blaxploitation that profits off of the pain Black people have lived through. Smith himself has made it clear that he purposely steered far away from movies about slavery throughout his career because he didn’t want to see his people portrayed in that way.  

While Smith’s character endures most of the suffering in Emancipation, Dodienne goes through her own horrifying experiences while awaiting her husband’s return and protecting her children. The actress believes that showcasing these moments was necessary in order to tell a truthful story. “I think we have to be realistic about what happened at the time. It’s the only way that we can create empathy to understand the depth of the suffering,” Bingwa tells Complex. “It was important to not sugarcoat it and to be true in the retelling.”

Smith believes it is imperative for viewers to watch this film and while it was available in select theaters, he has set up a two-month free trial of Apple TV+ so fans can watch the film, out on Friday, Dec. 9. Complex caught up with his costar, Bingwa, ahead of the film’s release and she talked about the impact of the movie, working with Smith and what she hopes is the message fans will find in Emancipation