The film, titled Emancipation, will feature Smith as a runaway slave named Peter, who evaded hunters and the dangerous swamps of Louisiana to reach freedom in the 1860s.
Written by Willam N. Collage, the story is based on photos taken of Peter’s back during a medical examination, which revealed shocking scars from injuries caused by his brutal owners. Known as “the scourged back,” the shot first appeared in The Independent in May 1863 and went on to serve as a symbol of the gruesome realities of slavery.
Speaking to Deadline, Fuqua said he was fascinated by the impact the image had on the world: “It was the first viral image of the brutality of slavery that the world saw, which is interesting when you put it into perspective with today and social media and what the world is seeing, again.”
Contemplating the film’s heavy subject matter, the director said history mattered to him: “You can’t fix the past, but you can remind people of the past and I think we have to, in an accurate, real way.”
Fuqua added that he is thrilled to be collaborating with Smith: “He’s focused and is a serious actor and producer,” he praised. “Will cares about every aspect of it, from storyboards to the characters and the technique.”