Emancipation – Movie Review

Emancipation is an Apple TV+ film starring Will Smith.

Perhaps you’ve seen the famous photo of Gordon, also known as ‘”Whipped Peter,” one of the most widely seen images during the American Civil War, circulated around 1863. The photo features Gordon, an escaped slave, with his back turned toward the camera, hand on his hip, showcasing how extensively scarred his back is from the beatings and whippings he has received during his lifetime of slavery. ‘Emancipation,’ directed by Antoine Fuqua, tells the true story of Gordon, named ‘Peter’ in the film, anchored with a powerhouse performance by Will Smith.

‘Emancipation’ begins with Peter being separated from his family as he’s sold and forced to labor in much harsher conditions under the cruel leadership of Fassel (Ben Foster). Upon hearing that President Lincoln has freed the slaves, Peter and several other slaves take their first opportunity to try and escape to Baton Rouge, where the Union soldiers are stationed.

The film wears several hats.

It is part chase, survival, and war epic. It’s a lot to take in and not always easy to watch. Peter isn’t just evading his captors, who ride on horseback with vicious dogs. He’s also wading through the alligator-infested swamps, avoiding snakes at every turn, all while trying not to starve to death. The war-filled third act begins when you think the film might be reaching its conclusion.

The film’s color palette is extremely muted, leaving the audience to ponder if the film is actually in black and white. I assure you it’s not, but Fuqua’s decision to have the colors be high in contrast accentuates the dire tone of the film. The deep greens of the swamp blend in with the whites and blacks while the red blood pops. It gives a distinct feel to a movie in a genre that has been tackled many times before.

Now for the Will Smith of it all.

Smith has had an eventful year. He had the highest moment in his career undercut by one of the lowest moments just minutes before. Nevertheless, his performance in ‘Emancipation’ is fantastic. Not only is he the best part of the film itself, but it’s one of the best performances on-screen in 2022. He won’t be in attendance at the Academy Awards this year, regardless of whether he gets a nomination or not. Still, his name deserves to be in the conversation if we are solely talking about on-screen performances.


I give Emancipation 3 out of 5 stars. Antoine Fuqua competently directs ‘Emancipation,’ but Will Smith’s performance shines. If you’ve seen slave dramas of the past, you’re likely not going to find too much that’s new here. However, if you’re a fan of Smith and willing to give him a chance, you’ll find something to like. It is now streaming exclusively on Apple TV+. Read more Reviews on Nerdtropolis and Subscribe to our YouTube.

Media and Movie Mastermind who co-hosts the Moviegoers Society Podcast and Fresh out the Pod.

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