Apple has won the bidding for the runaway slave thriller “Emancipation” starring Will Smith and directed by Antoine Fuqua.
Warner Bros, MGM, Lionsgate and Universal also made offers on the property starting last week at the Cannes virtual market. CAA Media Finance, which arranged the financing for the film, represents U.S. rights at the market. Film Nation Entertainment represents international sales.
“Emancipation” is written by William N. Collage and centered on a runaway slave named Peter, who escaped to the Union Army during the Civil War and outwitted bounty hunters over 10 days through the Louisiana swamps, masking his scent with onions. Army photos taken of Peter showing the scars on his back from being whipped were published in 1863 and became known as the “scourged back” photos, which became a means to illustrate the cruelty of slavery.
Production is expected to launch in early 2021. Smith will produce “Emancipation” through Westbrook Studios and James Lassiter and Jon Mone will serve in a producing capacity through Westbrook. McFarland Entertainment’s Joey McFarland and Escape Artists’ Todd Black are also producing. Fuqua will executive produce under his Fuqua Films banner, alongside Cliff Roberts. McFarland began researching and developing the story and characters in 2018 and brought in Collage to pen the script and participate in additional research.
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Apple’s Heads of Worldwide Video Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht have worked with Will Smith and spouse Jada Pinkett Smith in the past in their former roles as presidents of Sony Pictures Television, where they produced “Hawthorne” and “The Queen Latifah Show.” While at Apple, they worked with Jada Pinkett Smith on the feature film “Hala,” which she executive produced.
Apple made a major deal with Sony in May for the rights to the Tom Hanks war drama “Greyhound,” which will make its global debut on July 10, exclusively on the seven-month-old platform Apple TV Plus.