Antoine Fuqua, the director behind the upcoming Will Smith-led film Emancipation, isn’t letting the controversy behind the now infamous Smith/Chris Rock Oscars slap stand in the way of telling the important story that anchors the new film.
The Training Day director said as much in a recent interview with Vanity Fair on Tuesday, where he explained why highlighting a crucial moment in our history should hold more weight than one person’s bad moment.
“My conversation was always, ‘Isn’t 400 years of slavery, of brutality, more important than one bad moment?” Fuqua said. “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.”
Fuqua also shared his thoughts on the oft-discussed topic online of showcasing Black trauma and slave narratives onscreen, saying in part: “The only thing I can do is try to tell stories that I think could be inspiring in some way but remind us of our history. Because there is a responsibility: We are citizens of the United States of America and that’s the same country that kidnapped us and forced labor and brutalized us with violence for greed. So, I don’t think we can forget that. I don’t think we go about it with bitterness. We should go about it with an open heart; we should go about it hoping to have conversations about it and try to start some sort of healing about it.”
As previously reported by The Root, Emancipation tells the 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. The film is inspired by the 1863 photos of “Whipped Peter,” taken during a Union Army medical examination, that first appeared in Harper’s Weekly. One image, known as The Scourged Back, which shows Peter’s bare back mutilated by a whipping delivered by his enslavers, ultimately contributed to growing public opposition to slavery.