Charmaine Bingwa, Gilbert Owuor and Mustafa Shakir also appear opposite Smith.
Ben Foster (Left), Will Smith (Center), and Antoine Fuqua (Right)
Foster: AP Images / Smith and Fuqua: Everett Collection
Smith stars as Peter, a runaway slave who flees Louisiana in hopes of traveling north to freedom. “Emancipation” is inspired by the true story of “Whipped Peter,” an enslaved person who emancipated himself from a southern plantation and joined the Union Army. In 1863, photos taken of Peter during an Army medical examination first appeared in Harper’s Weekly. One image, known as “The Scourged Back,” shows the scars from a whipping on Peter’s bare back, illustrating the true cruelty of slavery and ultimately contributed to growing public opposition.
Fuqua will direct from a script by William N. Collage. Fuqua Films and Smith’s media company Westbrook Inc. are backing the project, which sold to Apple Studios for a reported $120 million.
Foster stars opposite Smith, playing Fassel, a man who doggedly pursues any enslaved person who attempts to flee to freedom, including Peter. Bingwa appears as Peter’s beloved wife Dodienne. Owuor plays Gordon, an enslaved man working at the same camp as Peter, while Shakir is Cailloux, a free Black man who also serves in the Union Army.
Charmaine Bingwa, Gilbert Owuor and Mustafa Shakur
Courtesy of Derec Ethan / Courtesy of Owuor / Shakir: Courtesy of Don Nixon
Smith, James Lassiter and Jon Mone will produce “Emancipation” through Westbrook Studios, along with McFarland Entertainment’s Joey McFarland and Escape Artists’ Todd Black. Fuqua will executive produce under his Fuqua Films banner, alongside Cliff Roberts.
Production began on the project in early July in New Orleans.
Foster is a SAG and Independent Spirit Award-winning actor for his roles in “Six Feet Under” and “Hell or High Water” respectively. The actor also earned a Gotham-award nomination for 2018’s “Leave No Trace.” Other highlights from Foster’s filmography include “3:10 to Yuma,” “The Messenger,” “Alpha Dog,” “Lone Survivor,” “Hostiles” “Kill Your Darlings,” “The Mechanic,” “Rampart” and “X-Men: The Last Stand.” The actor will next be seen in Barry Levinson’s “The Survivor” and “Violence of Action, reuniting with his “Hell or High Water” and “The Finest Hours” co-star Chris Pine.
Bingwa is a Zimbabwean-American actor, best known as Carmen Moyo on “The Good Fight.” The 2018 Health Ledger Scholarship winner also starred in “Black Box” and “Trees of Peace.” Owuor is known for his work in “Mute,” “Reprisal,” “Calls” and the upcoming “Montana Story.” Shakir previously starred as John ‘Bushmaster’ McIver’ in “Marvel’s Luke Cage” and as Big Mike on “The Deuce”. The actor will next appear in “Cowboy Bebop” and “Soul Assassin.”
Foster is represented by UTA and attorneys Felker Toczek Suddelson Abramson. Smith is repped by CAA and Overbrook Entertainment while Fuqua is repped by LBI Entertainment.
Bingwa is represented by Artists First, UTA, Smith & Macdonald Creative, attorney Nelson Davis and Viewpoint; Owuor is repped by D2 Management and Innovative Artists; and Shakir is repped by The Gersh Agency, Robyn Bluestone Management and Schreck Rose Dapello Adams Berlin & Dunham.
Variety's Angelique Jackson contributed to this post.