Will Smith is sharing an important message during a rare public appearance. Over the weekend, the 54-year-old actor stepped out for an advanced screening of his upcoming Apple Original Film, Emancipation, and addressed the crowd after the movie was shown to social impact leaders during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 51st Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.
“Throughout my career I’ve turned down many films that were set in slavery. I never wanted to show us like that, you know, and then this picture came along,” he said. “This is not a film about slavery. This is a film about freedom. This is a film about resilience. This is a film about faith. It’s a film about the heart of a man.”
The movie tells the story of Peter, a man who escapes from slavery, relying on his wits, unwavering faith and deep love for his family to evade cold-blooded hunters and the unforgiving swamps of Louisiana on his quest for freedom. The film is inspired by the 1863 photos of “Whipped Peter,” which show Peter’s bare back and contributed to growing public opposition to slavery.
“What could be called the first viral image, cameras had just been created and the image of ‘Whipped Peter’ went around the world and was a rallying cry against slavery,” Smith said. “This was a story that exploded and blossomed in my heart that I wanted to be able to deliver to you in a way that only [director] Antoine Fuqua could deliver.”
Smith’s public appearance comes months after he made headlines for slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars. He released a personal apology video for the incident in July.
“Will is feeling much more confident and much more positive and less depressed,” a source previously told ET about Smith’s post-apology state of mind. “He was in very low spirits prior to making his public apology.”
“He feels less ashamed now and more comfortable being out and about in public again,” the source continued, “because he has and continues to do the work that needs to be done for himself, his wife, his family, his friends, his colleagues, his fans, The Academy, Chris and Chris’ family.”
Emancipation will premiere in theaters on Dec. 2 and globally on Apple TV+ on Dec. 9.