For over a quarter of a century, Will Smith has reigned as one of the biggest and most bankable movie stars on the planet, headlining a string of wildly popular blockbusters that earned him a reputation as the ‘King of Summer’. However, with IP more important to studios than actors these days when it comes to marketing the year’s biggest hits, the 53-year-old could be about to embark on a fascinating new chapter in his storied career.
While the success of last year’s Bad Boys for Life proved that Smith still has the ability to deliver at the box office in the action genre, his next pair of projects will showcase an entirely different side of his acting game. He’s already the early front-runner for the Best Actor Academy Award after winning rave reviews for his performance as Venus and Serena William’s father in King Richard, while Antoine Fuqua’s period-set thriller Emancipation is currently shooting.
In a new interview with GQ, Smith admitted that he’d spent his entire time in the industry deliberately avoiding projects that involved slavery, but explained why Emancipation had convinced him to break that habit.
“I’ve always avoided making films about slavery. In the early part of my career, I didn’t want to show Black people in that light. I wanted to be a superhero. So I wanted to depict Black excellence alongside my white counterparts. I wanted to play roles that you would give to Tom Cruise. And the first time I considered it was Django. But I didn’t want to make a slavery film about vengeance. This was one that was about love and the power of Black love. And that was something that I could rock with. We were going to make a story about how Black love makes us invincible.”
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Inspired by the harrowing photograph of a man named Peter that was taken in 1863, Smith stars as fugitive Peter. Having escaped from a Louisiana plantation, he makes his way north to join up with the Union Army, where he’s forced to outwit and outrun bounty hunters at every turn. It’ll be powerful stuff without a doubt, and Emancipation is scheduled to premiere on AppleTV+ next year.