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Apple Lands Upcoming Will Smith Drama ‘Emancipation’ in Cannes Bidding War

Stephanie Sengwe

Apple just scored one of Cannes biggest films in an intense bidding war that left the tech giant head-to-head with Warner Bros. According to Deadline, Apple studios wound up scoring the rights to the Will Smith-helmed film, “Emancipation,” beating out the like of MGM, Lionsgate and Universal, in addition to Warner Bros.

Although official numbers weren’t released, Deadline’s sources believe the deal “comes in at $105 million net, but when backend gross buyouts are factored in, deal is north of $120 million.”

“Emancipation” is “an action thriller about the harrowing escape of Peter, a runaway slave forced to outwit cold-blooded hunters and the unforgiving swamps of Louisiana on a tortuous journey North where he joined the Union Army,” Deadline wrote.

The gut-wrenching story garnered international attention back in 1863, when during Army medical exam, photos were taken of Peter’s back, showing harrowing scars from a whipping delivered by one of his former overseers. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the picture, which was known as “The Scourged Back,” was published by the Independent and Harperโ€™s Weeklyโ€˜s and fueled abolitionists’ causes, serving as proof of the inhumane treatment of slaves in America.

“Emancipation” was written by William N. Collage and will be produced by Will Smith, James Lassiter and Jon Mone through their production company, Westbrook Studios. Noted director, Antoine Fuqua will lead the film to fruition as production is expected to begin in early 2021.

The film is also expected to do a theater stint before coming available on Apple TV+.