Will Smith said a few words about his Apple film Emancipation following its first screening at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 51st Annual Legislative Conference, hosted by the NAACP, on Saturday.
“Throughout my career, I’ve turned down many films that were set in slavery,” Smith said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “I never wanted to show us like that. And then this picture came along. And this is not a film about slavery. This is a film about freedom. This is a film about resilience. This is a film about faith.”
The comments mark Smith’s first time addressing an audience since he infamously slapped Chris Rock at the most recent Oscars.
“This is a film about the heart of a man—what could be called the first viral image,” Smith continued. “Cameras had just been created, and the image of whipped Peter went around the world. It was a rallying cry against slavery, and this was a story that exploded and blossomed in my heart that I wanted to be able to deliver to you in a way that only Antoine Fuqua could deliver.”
Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer), Emancipation tells the true story of Peter, who escaped a plantation in Louisiana and survived the elements in pursuit of his family. Smith’s reference to the “first viral image” is in regards to the photograph taken of Peter’s brutally whipped back during a medical examination after he joined the Union Army.
While Smith’s public image has been largely tarnished, reactions to the film were largely positive.
THR suspects the shining response to the screening of Emancipation could mean that Apple intends on releasing the film soon, despite the complications that arose following the incident at the Oscars. Check out some of the more glowing first reactions below.