Will Smith action film about escaping slavery heads for Apple TV+

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‘Emancipation’ is coming to theaters and Apple TV+.
The man in this picture made headlines in 1863. His life is being made into Emancipation on Apple TV+.
Photo: Library of Congress

The real-life story of Peter, whose saga of escaping slavery made headlines around the world in 1863, is being made into Emancipation, a film starring Will Smith and directed by Antoine Fuqua. Apple TV+ reportedly bought the worldwide rights for more than $120 million.

Deadline, which broke the news, called it the “largest film festival acquisition deal in film history.”

Filming on Emancipation is set to begin in 2021, according to Deadline. After completion, the movie will debut in theaters, then appear on Apple TV+, the iPhone-maker’s streaming video subscription service.

You might already know the hero of Emancipation

While most people might not realize they’ve heard of Peter, a glance at his picture in the Library of Congress could remind them. His back, scarred from brutal whippings, was photographed after he escaped slavery in Louisiana in 1863. The image was seen around the world as demonstration of the real cruelty of slavery in the United States (and later the Confederacy). It’s still used in schools for that same purpose.

Emancipation on Apple TV+ will tell Peter’s story, including how he escaped to freedom and joined the Union Army.

After reading the script, the director, Antoine Fuqua, told Deadline, “As a filmmaker, everything I’ve done up to this point in my life, and not just filmmaking but living as a black man in this country, having my own issues, and then having children and a family and being married. It hit home, because this is at heart a film about family, about love. Faith, the idea that Peter never gave up and he fought tooth and nail to get back to his family. That is an important story to tell.”

More about Apple TV+

The Apple TV+ streaming video service debuted last fall. It requires a $4.99 monthly subscription, but anyone who recently bought a new Apple device can enjoy the streaming service free for a year. There are currently more than 30 shows or movies available or coming soon.

A movie staring Will Smith is just the latest deal Cupertino signed to bring additional content to Apple TV+. It also recently made pacts with other big names in Hollywood like Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott and Sophia Coppola.

Apple also paid a reported $70 million for the distribution rights to Tom Hanks’ World War II film Greyhound, which will debut July 10 on Apple TV+.