Published in


It would be silly to ignore a movie about slavery over a slap

Will Smith understands why him slapping Chris Rock might prevent some of you from watching his new film, but I don’t.

Will Smith has started doing press for his new film, Emancipation, and has already acknowledged that he understands that some people might not be ready to see him star in a new movie just yet.

In an interview with Kevin McCarthy on Good Day DC, Smith was asked about what he would say to those claiming to not be ready to support his new film in light of the incident at the 2022 Oscars where he took the stage and slapped presenter Chris Rock over a joke made about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

“I completely understand — if someone is not ready, I would absolutely respect that and allow them their space to not be ready,” Smith said. “

“My deepest concern is my team — Antoine has done what I think is the greatest work of his entire career. The people on this team have done some of the best work of their entire careers, and my deepest hope is that my actions don’t penalize my team. At this point, that’s what I’m working for.”

Emancipation is based on the true story of a runaway slave named by Peter, best known as “Whipped Peter” due to photographs highlighting the keloid scarring he endured on his back as a result of beatings while enslaved, as he travels through the swamps of Louisiana to escape those who brutalized him and unite with his family.

Smith, who portrays Peter in the film, was considered an early Oscar contender for this role before this year’s ceremony.

Still, given the severity of the subject matter, Smith hopes moviegoers can look past his behavior at the show and focus on the story being told in the film.

“I’m hoping that the material — the power of the film, the timeliness of the story — I’m hoping that the good that can be done would open people’s hearts at a minimum to see and recognize and support the incredible artists in and around this film.”

I think Will Smith offered the best answer to that question — though I am certain he will be asked that over and over again through his press run.

He was gracious albeit he really has no choice but to be in this situation. I find him to be genuine, though in his willingness to meet some people where they are right now.

I don’t have to be that respectful of such a stance, however.

As far as I’ve noticed, only white people and Wanda Sykes have spoken about that ordeal as if one slap unleashed that much terror onto the world.

That does not condone what Will Smith did that night, but the Oscar crowd hasn’t had the same venom for men that have been accused of far more violent and abusive behavior. They stand up and applaud them when they accept their Oscars — the key difference would be those men are all white.

But Smith has apologized and he has been punished.

Everyone does indeed have to face the consequences for their actions regardless of whether or not it’s fair, but at the same time, this movie is about slavery and one slap is not bigger than that — a point made by director Antoine Fuqua in an interview with Vanity Fair earlier this month.

“The film to me is bigger than that moment,” Fuqua explained. “Four hundred years of slavery is bigger than one moment. My hope is that people will see it that way and watch the movie and be swept away with the great performance by Will and all the real hard work that the whole crew did.”

He added that he had “a full conversation with Apple” but “there was never a conversation with me and Apple or my producers about the movie not coming out.”

“Of course I wanted people to see the film,” Fuqua said. “My conversation was always, ‘Isn’t 400 years of slavery, of brutality, more important than one bad moment?’ We were in Hollywood, and there’s been some really ugly things that have taken place, and we’ve seen a lot of people get awards that have done some really nasty things. So I think Apple considered all those things, and we discussed a lot of those things. Then a decision was made by the people in charge of distribution and the money at Apple — and I’m grateful, I’m really grateful.”

I somewhat understand Black people who say they are weary of watching another “slave movie.” A lot of people are tired from the plague and life in America in general and want to see something light versus something reminding them of their centuries-long subjugation.

I get that, so can see why some if not totally avoid seeing the movie, at least wait a while to watch.

But for those who cite the Oscars: shut up.

I could be more thoughtful, but no. Just shut up.

Yes, people can feel how they feel and elect to watch the movie or not, but there is no virtue in ignoring the movie for that reason.

There is an ongoing movement being led by politicians — including presidential contenders — actively trying to sanitize American history. If you say you care about history, Black people, and important stories being told, what Will Smith did that night is no reason to ignore a movie like Emancipation. Anyone saying otherwise is fishing for a reason to avoid seeing the uncomfortable truths being told in the film.

I’d much rather people say “I don’t want to see the movie” and leave it at that rather than try and make the choice be perceived as the pious one.



A publication from Medium that centers the stories, poetry, essays and thoughts of women of color.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Michael Arceneaux

New York Times bestselling author of “I Can’t Date Jesus” and “I Don’t Want To Die Poor.” Houstonian.