In an alternative universe, Emancipation might be in my top 10 predicted Best Picture nominees. I could potentially be discussing Will Smith’s chances of being the first back to back acting winner since Tom Hanks in 1993 and 1994.
I didn’t think this alternative universe could be a potential reality in the 2022 awards season. In 2021, Apple TV beat Netflix and others to the punch as CODA was the inaugural streaming Best Picture winner. For a while, Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon appeared to be Apple’s best shot at making it two years in a row. That’s until it got pushed to 2023. In recent weeks, there was speculation that Ridley Scott’s Napoleon starring Joaquin Phoenix could make a jump to 2022. It wasn’t to be.
This has left Apple without a legit across the board Oscar player… until maybe today. Why? The streamer announced that Antoine Fuqua’s historical drama Emancipation will hit theaters for an awards qualifying run on December 2nd and then be available for home viewing on December 9th. The trailer was unveiled this morning.
And in case you’re still wondering why I’m skeptical… two words: The Slap. Yes, the slap heard around the globe when Chris Rock presented Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards and cracked a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith. And, of course, slap provider Will Smith giving his acceptance speech a few minutes later when he was victorious in Best Actor for King Richard.
Since then, many of Smith’s planned projects have entered turnaround status. Emancipation, in which he plays a slave who joins the Union Army, was already filmed. And Apple made the surprising decision in early October to get it out two months later. This surely means Smith will be subject to interviews where he’ll address The Slap sooner than later.
So… the obvious question: can Smith get nominated? Can the film itself do so in other categories? Even though the star resigned from the Academy in the aftermath of the incident, he can still be nominated (and he can attend if invited by other members). So while the short answer is yes… the real answer is more complicated.
My gut is that Smith’s work in Emancipation would have to be undeniably awards worthy to make the final five. Even that could be a stretch. Time heals controversies and not much time has passed. As for the film itself, it could surely garner nods from Best Picture on down (I’m curious if Ben Foster gets any chatter for Supporting Actor). Yet it starts off at a unique disadvantage.
We won’t know until reviews start surfacing and that could be a few weeks. I can only assume Apple will give this a major push for consideration. It’s a campaign that is an uphill battle for reasons unfathomable just a few months ago.