Apple Studios picked up the rights to Will Smith and Antoinque Fuqua’s Emancipation in a record-breaking deal.
Apple picked Emancipation, a Civil War-era thriller starring Will Smith as a runaway slave, after a tense bidding war throughout the week. There were seven bidders when the package was brought to market last week as the signature film in the Virtual Cannes market.
Bidding zoomed past $75 million, and the field got down to Warner Bros and Apple, and the latter finally closed the deal last night. Sources said the commitment comes in at $105 million net, but when backend gross buyouts are factored in, deal will exceed $120 million when all is said and done.
The film will premiere in theaters and then around the world on Apple TV +.
In the Willam N. Collage-scripted action thriller based on a true story, Smith stars as Peter, a runaway slave forced to outwit cold-blooded hunters and the unforgiving swamps of Louisiana on a tortuous journey North where he joined the Union Army. For his only chance at freedom.
Emancipation also accompanies the infamous image that is Peter, in which he showed his bareback during an Army medical examination, photos were taken of the scars from a whipping delivered by an overseer on the plantation owned by John and Bridget Lyons that nearly killed him.
The photo is known as “the scourged back” was published by the Independent in May 1863 and then in Harper’s Weekly‘s July 4 issue, it became indisputable proof of the cruelty and barbarity of slavery in America.
The photo reached around the world, and legend has it that it made countries like France refuse to buy cotton from the South. It solidified the cause of abolitionists and prompted many free blacks to join the Union Army.
The film uses his story and his photo as a historical background. However, it is still an action thriller with a powerful emotional core. It will also delve into Peter’s death-defying journey to escape his captors. Like, he used onions to mask his scent from pursuing bloodhounds. As well as his strength and smarts to survive running barefoot through the swamps for 10 days.
CAA Media Finance and FilmNation Entertainment were handling sales for the package. The film will be produced by Apple Studios, alongside Smith and his Westbrook Studios, Fuqua and his Fuqua Films, Escape Artists’ Todd Black and Joey McFarland of McFarland Entertainment. James Lassiter and Jon Mone will serve in a producing capacity through Westbrook. Cliff Roberts is exec producer. The concept came from McFarland and he and Roberts enlisted star and filmmaker.
Production is said to kick off in 2021.