Antoine Fuqua already had a great challenge to direct, “To Freedom,” a film about the brutality of slavery set in a Louisiana swamp. And as if that wasn’t enough, its protagonist Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars.
Despite speculation that Apple will delay its release until the dust settles, the film will hit theaters later this week and streaming platforms next Friday. However, the fear of exclusion is strong.
“It certainly worries me,” Fuqua told AFP.
“Will Smith has been a good guy to all of us for 37 years,” said the “Training Day” director, reflecting on the trajectory of “The Fresh Prince of Rap.”
“I hope we at least have more kindness in our hearts to see their work, because their performances in the film were amazing. They all did a good job.”
“Towards Freedom” is inspired by the story of a black man who overcame overwhelming odds to escape slavery during the 19th century American Civil War.
“Flogged Peter” became a symbol of the horrors of slavery after a photograph of his bare back, horribly scarred from being flogged on cotton plantations, circulated around the world.
Little is known about the man Smith barely escapes from sadistic slaves crossing the alligator- and snake-infested swamps of Louisiana to gain freedom for himself and his family.
“To Freedom” plays out more like a thriller than a historical drama, graphically depicting the brutality of slavery, like other recent films like “12 Years a Slave”.
The production was filmed in the Louisiana swamps. “It’s a very difficult film to make,” Smith said Wednesday at the world premiere in Los Angeles.
Her performance has received rave reviews, but critics are debating whether it’s too soon for a comeback just eight months after Oscar assault.
Smith, 54, resigned from the Academy after slapping Chris Rock on stage after the comedian made comments about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair loss.
Following the attack, the Academy banned Smith from appearing at the Oscars for a decade, although this does not prevent her from being nominated and winning a statuette.
In an effort to rehabilitate his image, the actor apologized on social media, and in a recent appearance on Trevor Noah’s talk show, Smith said he was “going through some things that night” and was “in control.” had lost.”
Fuqua has no half measures on the attack: “It was wrong.”
But the director added: “Will is a good guy. He is supported by me.”
“I was with him for a few years. I was in the swamp with him, and he didn’t complain once.”
– “Spooky” Parallels –
For Fuqua, part of the urgency of releasing the film is the current context of the United States, where the legacy of slavery polarizes society.
“You hear things in the United States, especially discussions about not teaching about slavery in some schools (…) It’s like they want to erase the past,” he said.
Members of the Republican Party have denied education reforms that could allow schools to address systemic racism and the legacy of slavery in the United States.
Conservative senators wrote last year that children should be taught that the country is “inherently bad.”
For Fuqua there are “eerie” parallels to the “Fogged Peter” photographs, which were ultimately necessary to confront many people trying to downplay the brutality of slavery in 1863.
“That’s why it’s important to keep the museums running, to keep them all alive,” he added. “Many kids don’t know about slavery.”
Whether the film’s message will be lost amid the controversy over Smith’s attack on The Rock remains to be seen.
But Fuqua hopes the two actors can respectfully reconcile.
“I hope they can come together, not in front of the cameras, and hold hands, forgive and move on with their lives,” he said. “I’ll keep my focus on the film.”