Will Smith’s feature film return, following his controversial altercation with Chris Rock at this year’s Oscars ceremony, is receiving mixed reviews. At this time of writing, Apple TV+’s drama Emancipation, which stars Smith, has a 54% positive rating on the movie review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. This rating, which classifies the film as “rotten”, is off of 35 reviews so far. As Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus explains, “Emancipation works as an action movie — albeit one that’s uncomfortably at odds with its awkward handling of the real-life events that inspired its stirring story.”
This 54% rating means Emancipation has the lowest rating of a film starring Smith in several years, since 2019’s live-action remake of Aladdin, which has a 57% positive rating. Other “rotten” projects of Smith’s in recent years include Gemini Man at 26%, Bright at 26%, and Collateral Beauty at 13%.
Emancipation, which is directed by Antoine Fuqua, follows Peter (played by Smith), a slave who escapes from a Louisiana after being whipped nearly to death. Peter outwits cold-blooded hunters led by Fassel, as he makes his way North, where he joins the Union Army. The film is based on the true story of an escaped slave named Gordon. Photographs of his bare back, heavily scourged from an overseer’s whippings, were published worldwide in 1863, giving the abolitionist movement proof of the cruelty of American slavery.
The cast of Emancipation also includes Ben Foster as Fassel, Charmaine Bingwa as Dodienne, Steven Ogg as Sergeant Howard, Mustafa Shakir as Andre Cailloux, Timothy Hutton as Senator John Lyons, Gilbert Owuor as Gordon, Grant Harvey as Leeds, Ronnie Gene Blevins as Harrington, Jabbar Lewis as Tomas, Michael Luwoye as John, Aaron Moten as Knowls, and Imani Pullum as Betsy.
The moment at the Oscars, which culminated in Smith walking onstage and slapping Rock in the face, occurred after Rock made a joke about the haircut of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, which is a result of her years-long battle with the autoimmune disease alopecia. In the aftermath, Smith, who went on to win the Best Actor award for his performance in King Richard later that night, resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“That was a horrific night, as you can imagine,” Smith said in a recent interview with Variety. “There’s many nuances and complexities to it. But at the end of the day, I just — I lost it, you know? I was going through something that night, you know? Not that that justifies my behavior at all… It was a lot of things. It was the little boy that watched his father beat up. his mother, you know? All of that just bubbled up in that moment. That is not who I want to be.”
“I was gone,” he said. “That was a rage that had been bottled for a really long time. My nephew is nine. He is the sweetest little boy. We came home. He had stayed up late to see his uncle Will and we are sitting in my kitchen, and he is on my lap, and he is holding the Oscar and he is just like, ‘Why did you hit that man, Uncle Will?’ Damn it. Why are you trying to Oprah me?”
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