Emancipation photo 01 h 2022
Photo Credit: Apple TV+

Here's What Critics Are Saying About New Will Smith Film 'Emancipation'

The embargo for new Will Smith film Emancipation has lifted. Some critics are calling Smith's portrayal of Peter as his best role to date.

One week ahead of its Apple TV+ debut and critics seem to be split on Will Smith's latest film, Emancipation. The Antoine Fuqua-directed slavery epic held its premiere at Los Angeles' Regency Village Theatre. Attending with Smith was his family, including wife Jada Pinkett Smith and children, Trey, Jaden and Willow. The film is Smith's latest release since King Richard, which the 54-year-old won the Academy Award for Best Actor earlier this year.

Emancipation also marks Smith's anticipated comeback since the now-infamous Oscars slap, when he struck comedian Chris Rock for joking about Jada Pinkett-Smith's shaved head. Smith has since spoken about the incident in an apology video and numerous interviews. In a recent Entertainment Weekly article, Smith expressed that the "only discomfort my heart has around" continued backlash from the incident "is that so many people have done spectacular work on" his new film.

"I definitely lose a couple winks of sleep every night thinking that I could have potentially penalized my team," Smith added. "But I'm going to do everything I can to make sure everyone gets seen in the light that they deserve."

In Emancipation, Smith portrays Peter, based on the image and story of "Whipped Peter," an escaped slave who joined the Union Army after fleeing from his Louisiana plantation. Some critics were sold on Emancipation, including Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, who said the film “works very efficiently as a thriller."

Collider's Ross Bonaime also praised Smith's performance. “For an actor that has been so reliant on his charisma in many of his roles, Emancipation requires Smith to be silent and still, full of anger that is ready to burst, but with a faith that helps move him away from this righteous rage," he wrote.

As the film currently holds a 61% on Rotten Tomatoes, other critics shared their grievances. Giving the film a two out of five, Kevin Maher of The Times (UK) said "Emancipation should have been Son of Saul with shoot-outs, or Schindler’s List with a kick-ass finale. Instead, alas, it’s little more than the The Equalizer in chains."

Emancipation premieres Friday, December 9 on Apple TV+. Read more reviews below.