‘Emancipation’ Director Says Movie Is “Bigger” Than Oscars Slapgate and Calls Will Smith “Nice”

The director of Will Smith’s latest star vehicle, Emancipation, has said that the movie is “bigger” than the Oscars controversy that preceded it, which saw Smith slapping award presenter Chris Rock after the comedian made an unfavorable joke about his wife.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua of the Training Day and The Equalizer trilogies, Emancipation is inspired by the real-life story of escaped slave Gordon, and follows Peter (Smith) as he journeys North from a Louisiana plantation to join the Union Army. The forthcoming drama is set to hit theaters on December 2, followed by its streaming release on Apple TV+.

While speaking with Vanity Fair ahead of his film’s premiere, Fuqua said, “The film to me is bigger than that moment,” referring to slapgate, before adding, “Four hundred years of slavery is bigger than one moment.”

He expressed, “My hope is that people will see it that way and watch the movie and be swept away with the great performance by Will and all the real hard work that the whole crew did.”

Fuqua then opened up his positive experience working with Smith, recalling, “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.”

He added that Smith had to be stopped from greeting people on set due to COVID restrictions, and said the actor kept trying to give extras additional pay for enduring the Louisiana heat.

The director said he “saw a different person than that one” during the Oscars controversy, but still has “nothing but amazing things” to say about the actor.

He continued, “Chris Rock—I know Chris—Chris is a good guy too. I’ve spent time with Chris, and I think it’s an unfortunate event and I hope we can move forward and get past it,” telling Vanity Fair that he hopes the two can eventually “make amends.”

Smith has since endured consequences of the incident, which led to his resignation from the Academy and a 10-year ban from all events, including the Oscars, but others aren’t letting the slap slide so easily. Next year’s Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel has already confirmed that the event will be mentioned during the 2023 ceremony.

“It’s got to come up in some way. You know, I don’t want to really make light of it necessarily, because to comedians — comedians are mad about it,” Kimmel said. “It’s one of those things that, for a group of people that find everything funny, it’s, like, not funny, you know? But of course, you have to.”

Emancipation will be released December 2 in theaters and December 9 on Apple TV+.

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