Apple TV+ released the first trailer on Monday for Emancipation, the new historical drama starring Will Smith as an enslaved man who embarks on a dangerous journey to reunite with his family.
The video shows Smith’s character known as “Whipped Peter” being taken away from a plantation in a horse-drawn wagon. Later, as Peter sits alongside other slaves, he says freedom is in their futures.
“I heard it for myself, slaves are free,” Peter tells the other men. But one of them asks who exactly said slaves would be freed. “Lincoln,” Peter replies, referring to President Abraham Lincoln.
The film tells “the triumphant story of Peter (Smith), a man who escapes from slavery, relying on his wits, unwavering faith and deep love for his family to evade cold-blooded hunters and the unforgiving swamps of Louisiana on his quest for freedom,” Apple said in a press release.
The thriller is directed by Antoine Fuqua from a script written by William N. Collage. Fuqua executive produces through his Fuqua Films company. Smith’s Westbrook Inc. banner is co-producing. Additional executive producers include James Lassiter, Heather Washington, Cliff Roberts, Glen Basner and Scott Greenberg.
Emancipation also stars Ben Foster, Grant Harvey, Charmaine Bingwa, David Denman, Steven Ogg, Imani Pullum, Mustafa Shakir, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Jayson Warner Smith, Aaron Moten, and Landon Chase Dubois.
The film is inspired by the true story of a slave named Gordon who was nearly whipped to death by an overseer. After fleeing the Louisiana plantation where he was held, Gordon joined the Union Army. When he showed his mutilated back during an army medical examination, a shocking photo of his injuries was published in 1863. The image became known as “The Scourged Back” and contributed to growing public opposition to slavery.
Emancipation screened over the weekend at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 51st Annual Legislative Conference, with Smith, Fuqua, and Mary Elliott, curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, speaking to the audience.
“This is not a film about slavery,” Smith said, according to Vanity Fair. “This is a film about freedom. This is a film about resilience. This is a film about faith.”
For months, the drama’s release was uncertain amid fallout from Smith slapping Chris Rock in March at the 2022 Oscars. But the trailer revealed the film will arrive in theaters in time for awards season consideration.
Emancipation opens in theaters on Dec. 2 and begins streaming Dec. 9 on Apple TV+.
Watch the trailer above.