“It was always a full conversation with Apple. They were very sensitive to myself, to Will, to all the people who worked on the movie. There was never a conversation with me and Apple or my producers, Todd Black and Jon Mone or Heather Washington, about the movie not coming out,” he explained to the magazine.
“They were very careful about it. Then we showed the film to some people and their reactions were really positive, and we discussed it along the way.”
Fuqua continued, “Of course I wanted people to see the film. My conversation was always, ‘Isn’t 400 years of slavery, of brutality, more important than one bad moment?’ We were in Hollywood, and there’s been some really ugly things that have taken place, and we’ve seen a lot of people get awards that have done some really nasty things. So I think Apple considered all those things, and we discussed a lot of those things. Then a decision was made by the people in charge of distribution and the money at Apple—and I’m grateful, I’m really grateful.”
Emancipation is inspired by the 1863 photos of “Whipped Peter,” taken during a Union Army medical examination, that first appeared in Harper’s Weekly. The graphic images show an enslaved person bearing the scars of whips across his back.
In March, Smith was the center of controversy when he interrupted Rock live on stage at the Oscars after the comic mentioned Jada Pinkett-Smith in a joke. The actor slapped the comedian across the face and yelled at the stand-up once back in his seat.
Elsewhere in the VF interview, Fuqua shared his delayed reaction to the unprecedented moment.
“It hit me later. I was still having post-traumatic stress syndrome about being in the swamps of Louisiana. People were calling me and texting me. I couldn’t deal with that—I was still dealing with the other thing,” he said.
“But it didn’t feel real to me at all, because I was with Will for two years and I haven’t met a nicer human being. I’m being honest about it. He was kind to everyone on the set. Will would go around and hug and shake hands—we had 300-something extras and military. Marines. We had to stop Will from doing that because of COVID. He’s funny. He’s fun. We had certain extras that were the dead bodies in the graves, and he would go give them money for laying there in that heat over 100 degrees.”
Emancipation is due in theaters on Dec. 2. and the following week on Dec. 9, it will be available to stream globally on Apple TV+. Watch the official trailer below.