Oscars: Antoine Fuqua’s “Emancipation” with Will Smith, Ben Foster

Will Smith is between a Chris Rock and a hard place.

The speculation surrounding Apple Original Films’ “Emancipation” and Smith, its star and producer, has been the water cooler talk of award season and the bane of award forecasters who follow their charts. Will voters embrace the epic? Can or should they?

After beating the comedian at the 94th Oscars, Smith resigned from AMPAS and was banned from attending the ceremony or any Academy-sponsored event for 10 years. However, that doesn’t preclude the King Richard winner from being nominated for best actor during that period or even winning another statuette. It shouldn’t prevent Antoine Fuqua’s film from being considered for awards, either.

If you removed “the slap in the face” from the equation, this awards season’s race narrative would probably have leaned towards Steven Spielberg (“The Fabelmans”) versus Fuqua (and it still can). In fact, this is Fuqua’s “Schindler’s List” (for which Spielberg won his first Oscar): The penetrating honesty and meticulous craftsmanship of “Emancipation” are the culmination of Fuqua’s long career, which has been marked by populist favorites like “Training Day” (2001), the Denzel Washington brought in his leading statuette.

Will Smith in “Emancipation”

The film tells the story of Peter (Smith), a runaway slave, who makes his way through the Louisiana swamps to escape the plantation owners who nearly killed him. Smith’s performance is not only soulful, but also sovereign. His posture as he traverses the rough terrain is reminiscent of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar-winning work in The Revenant (2015). Smith’s performance as Peter is more impressive than his Richard Williams in King Richard – and I thought he was fantastic in King Richard.

As for Smith’s chances of a nomination, bridging the industry and cultural divide between supporters and naysayers will be much more complicated this time. In conversations with members of the acting industry, they have expressed a range of feelings about Smith’s behavior at the recent ceremony, his punishment and how he might be perceived in the eyes of industry voters.

I see an uncanny parallel between the behavior of Academy voters and the tacit support of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election. To be clear, I’m not comparing the actions or personal qualities of the two men in the slightest, but rather the manner , as Trump supporters, particularly independent swing voters, have not been particularly vocal about their intentions. However, when it came time to put the pen to the pad and vote, his name was ticked off. That could be the narrative for Smith, although if he creates a nom, the media and public won’t have the same devastating reaction they had to Trump’s win.

Keep in mind that the actors branch has 1,303 voting members and a candidate needs 217 votes to be nominated. There will undoubtedly be critics of Smith, which is why I suspect that even if he were to beat the odds and end up in the top 5 Leading Actors when the nearly 10,000 members of the Academy vote, his odds of winning could be slim to none. However, a member shares it diversity: “Mel Gibson keeps coming back and we know how he feels about blacks and Jews. Will was beaten. Everyone attacked him in the media. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve it. But now we can move on. If he’s good, then he’s good.”



Smith’s prospects aside, will voters welcome Emancipation’s other accomplishments?

Typically, films dealing with slavery face an uphill battle with voters who cannot stomach the grotesque depictions of inhumane treatment and the challenging subject matter. However, there might be a morbid curiosity to watch “Emancipation,” if only to see what Smith brings to the role.

As the villainous Fassel who relentlessly hunts Peter, Ben Foster is able to portray a vile persona who is an amalgamation of slave catchers throughout history. Still, the fear he weaves into the character is an award-winning performance reminiscent of Oscar-nominated supporting roles like Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave and Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List.

Demonstrating how to make the most of limited screen time, Charmaine Bingwa unabashedly plays the film’s emotional pillar, Dodienne, Peter’s wife and mother of his children, to whom he is desperately trying to return. There are elements that feel similar to Jessica Chastain’s work in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011), which isn’t overly “loud” but is still incredibly moving. I hope that in a wide-open race as a supporting actress, the academy won’t overlook such breakout talent over concerns about the film’s star and producer.

The team of craftsmen assembled by Fuqua consists of some of cinema’s most talented and respected. Notable among them is three-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (“JFK,” “The Aviator” and “Hugo”), who could very well have delivered his magnum opus with his framing mixes of sepia tones and black-and-white imagery, particularly impressive given of the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida during production – no easy task even for such a master.

If Emancipation wins Best Picture, the Academy could face a complex PR dilemma. Smith is an acclaimed producer and would be among the nominees for the film along with Todd Black, Joey McFarland and Jon Mone. For such an important film to be nominated and for the only black producer (and possibly the only black actor) not to be able to attend the ceremony will not go down well with the public. That’s not to say the academy should lift its ban. With the prospect of Smith becoming the most nominated black producer in history (he would equal two with Jordan Peele), the organization needs to rehash its judgment on Smith’s past actions and continue to highlight her diversity wins over the past few years Years. Or it can pray to the Oscar gods that Smith doesn’t get nominated.

To see the current rankings for each individual category, visit diversity is Oscars hub. The first set of SAG Awards Predictions for Film has also been revealed.


https://variety.com/2022/awards/awards/emancipation-oscars-best-picture-will-smith-ben-foster-antoine-fuqua-1235443572/ Oscars: Antoine Fuqua’s “Emancipation” with Will Smith, Ben Foster

Charles Jones

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