Emancipation is a 2022 American historical action film directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Will Smith as an enslaved man in Louisiana in the 1860s who escapes his plantation. The film, written by William N. Collage, is loosely based on the real-life story of Gordon (named “Peter” in the film), a former slave, and the photographs of his bare back, heavily scourged from an overseer’s whippings, that were published worldwide in 1863, giving the abolitionist movement proof of the cruelty of slavery. The film also stars Ben Foster and Charmaine Bingwa. (Wikipedia)
Emancipation tries to find a tenuous balance between exciting action and historical significance but fails in the latter while largely succeeding in the former. For most action films, suspension of disbelief is pretty much a given. After all, our protagonist will have to overcome insurmountable odds and thus audiences will tend to grant leeway in that context. Yet, the story is about a slave fighting for his freedom during a dark period of American history and thus it is difficult to accept anything but hard facts from this perspective.
Peter (Will Smith, in yet another impressive performance) has been separated from his family and drafted into working for the Confederate Army in the final days of the American Civil War and once he discovers that President Abraham Lincoln has granted freedom to all slaves, Peter can only think of one thing – escape! So first chance he gets, he runs, of course. Which leads to an almighty chase between him and slave-hunter Fassell (Ben Foster, playing your stereotypical Southern racist).
Now this is where for the most part, Emancipation turns into an action film through and through as Peter has to face down incredible obstacles in order to survive long enough to join up with the Union forces at Baton Rouge. The action sequences are all entertaining mind you, as long as you can switch your mind off. After all, this is a malnourished, physically abused slave and it takes a massive dollop of suspension of disbelief to accept all the feats that Peter achieves in his condition but there you go!
In the final analysis, Emancipation is an enjoyable action film, just don’t think that this is what happened in real life. Recommended.
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