Will Smith is to star in Emancipation.
The 51-year-old actor will play a slave named Peter in the movie, which is being directed by Training Day filmmaker Antoine Fuqua from a screenplay written by William N. Collage that is based on a true story.
Peter had to show his body during a medical exam for the U.S. Army and had horrific scars all over his back from being whipped by plantation owners.
The photo, which appeared in Harper’s Weekly in July 1863 and other newspapers, become known as the “scourged back” and provided proof of the cruelty of the slave trade and was critical in changing the beliefs of White Americans in the Northern States, ultimately leading to slavery being abolished.
Emancipation will use this as historical background but it is pitched as an action thriller, which will document how Peter was able to survive after escaping from his owners.
Fuqua believes the project, which is hoped to begin production in 2021, will be a timely reminder of the past in the wake of anti-racism protests after the recent death of George Floyd.
The 54-year-old director told Deadline: “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.
“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. We all have to look for a brighter future for us all, for everyone.
“That’s one of the most important reasons to do things right now, is show our history. We have to face our truth before we can move forward.”
Fuqua added that he and Smith have been visualizing the project for nearly two years.
He explained: “It’s almost two years from now when I first read the script.
“It hit my heart and soul in so many ways that are impossible to convey but I think you understand. We’re watching some of the feeling that I had, in the streets right now.”