After staying out of the spotlight for most of 2022 following the Oscar slap scandal, Will Smith has kicked his media appearances into high gear this past week. The actor is promoting his new Apple TV+ film, Emancipation. The film tells the story of the man in the widely recognized photo known as “Whipped Peter.” The photo showed the wounds on Peter’s back from being whipped and once it circulated throughout the country, it helped turn white Northerners against slavery. The film follows Peter as he flees a plantation and has to escape through dangerous swamps in Louisiana as cold-blooded hunters chase after him as he fights for his freedom.

Smith has historically not taken on any slavery roles throughout his career, and he told Complex during a brief conversation ahead of the movie’s release that the choice has been intentional. The actor said he didn’t want to show “Black folks in that light,” but felt like director Antoine Fuqua’s portrayal of this story was inspiring and had a meaning deeper than the suffering and degradation movies about slavery usually portray. 

“Antoine didn’t make a movie about slavery,” Smith said. “It’s a movie about freedom, it’s a movie about love, it’s a movie about family, it’s a movie about faith, it’s a movie about endurance and gratitude, and it’s a movie about the power of the spirit of the African-American.”

Image via Apple TV+

The actor has been banned from attending the Academy Awards for 10 years following the incident involving Chris Rock earlier this year, and that is a shame. This is by far one of the strongest performances Smith has delivered in the course of his career and one that is deserving of all the recognition Hollywood has to offer. At first, it was reported that Apple would delay the film’s release until 2023 after the Oscars controversy, but the company went ahead with the original plan—giving Smith a necessary opportunity to reconcile with his fans. 

Emancipation is currently playing in select theaters and hits Apple TV+ on Dec. 9. Check out our conversation with Will Smith below.