Deadline is exclusively reporting that one of the hottest film packages that will be at the upcoming Cannes virtual Market will be Emancipation, a Willam N. Collage scripted thriller with Antoine Fuqua attached to direct and Will Smith attached to star, that is based on the true story of Peter, a runaway slave forced to outwit cold-blooded hunters and the unforgiving swamps of Louisiana on a tortuous journey North where he would join the Union army.
The thriller is fuelled by the indelible image of Peter showing his bare back during an Army medical examination, with photos 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 would be known as ‘The scourged back’ and be published by the Independent in May, 1863 and then in Harper’s Weekly’s 4th July issue, that 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 but cotton from the South. It solidified the cause of abolitionists and prompted many free blacks to join the Union Army.
However, Emancipation will use all that as historical background, but at heart it is an action thriller with a powerful emotional core that involves Peter’s death-defying journey to escape his captors. Using onions to mask his scent from pursuing bloodhounds, and his strength and smarts to survive running barefoot through the swamps for ten days.
Will Smith, James Lassiter and Jon Mone will serve as producers on the project under Westbrook Studios banner, alongside McFarland Entertainment’s Joey McFarland and Escape Artists’ Todd Black. Antoine Fuqua will executive produce under Fuqua Films alongside Cliff Roberts.