Emancipation Parent Guide
This would be a better film if it focused on being a historical drama instead of trying to also be an action thriller.
Parent Movie Review
As the Civil War drags on, conditions in the Confederacy continue to deteriorate. The army has been granted the power to seize the slaves of private citizens for military projects, which is the fate that awaits Peter (Will Smith). Although he has a family on the plantation where he’s enslaved, and although he has training as a blacksmith, once the Confederate Army has a hold of him, Peter is forced into brutal, backbreaking labor constructing a railroad. When he overhears a guard remarking on Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, he sees an opportunity, and seizes the first opportunity to flee for the Union line down in Baton Rouge.
Even if he can cross the treacherous swamp between the Confederate work camp and the Union forces, he’ll have to watch out for Fassel (Ben Foster), a brutally effective manhunter determined to bring him to ground. If he can make it, though, Peter has a rare opportunity for freedom – a freedom which he hopes to extend to his enslaved family. A freedom he is willing to die for.
At first glance, you might think Emancipation is a black and white film, but it isn’t, not quite. It’s been heavily desaturated in some kind of post-production digital color grading, but the results are inconsistent. The same greens pop differently in different scenes and I can’t quite work out why. If there were narrative significance to the amount of color left in any given shot, that might be interesting, but the color variations just seem be an inconsistency without rhyme or reason. It ends up being distracting more than anything.
Apart from the semi-greyscale look, the film is actually quite compelling. It’s based on a true story, although there are the usual liberties taken to make the narrative more exciting and dramatic. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t give Will Smith much to do with this character. Mostly he just alternates between running and looking grim, although he does manage to do both at the same times in some scenes, which seems like a bit of a waste of such a talented actor and an incredible historical person.
Historical interest notwithstanding, this film has a Restricted rating for good reason. It’s almost impossible to make a halfway honest portrayal of the brutality of slavery or the bloodshed of the Civil War without some very graphic depictions of violence and cruelty, and the film does not shy away from the nastiness. That is, however, the largest concern. There is no nudity, sexual content, or drug use, and only one use of significant profanity – although there are repeated uses of racial slurs, which is unsurprising in context. I do think the film is worth watching, although I wish this were more a historical character study than the period action-thriller it seems to be.Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Starring Will Smith, Ben Foster, Grant Harvey. Running time: 132 minutes. Theatrical release December 9, 2022. Updated January 20, 2024
Watch the trailer for Emancipation
Rating & Content Info
Why is Emancipation rated R? Emancipation is rated R by the MPAA for strong racial violence, disturbing images and language,
Violence: Men are beaten, branded, and whipped. Several individuals are shot and either injured or killed. The heads of murdered enslaved people are seen mounted on spikes. The body of a deserter is seen hanging from a tree. A person is mauled by dogs. A pig carcass is seen being butchered. A woman is injured in an industrial accident. A horse is seen on fire. A man is seen having a leg amputated in a field hospital. Soldiers are blown up, shot, and stabbed in a battle.
Sexual Content: None.
Profanity: There are dozens of uses of a racial slur. There is a single sexual expletive.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adult characters are seen drinking and smoking tobacco.
Page last updated January 20, 2024
Emancipation Parents' Guide
Emancipation is based on a real person most commonly known as “Whipped Peter”. For information about him, you can read the following article.
If you want to fact-check the film, you can read the following:
History vs Hollywood: Emancipation (2022)
What was life like during for enslaved people in the South during the Civil War? How did the Emancipation Proclamation effect their lives? How many in the North supported the Proclamation? What contribution did formerly enslaved people make to the Union’s war effort? How were captured African-American troops treated by the Confederacy? Did the Confederacy ever have the resources or manpower to win the war? How did the strategies of both the Union and Confederacy change over the course of the war? What were Lincoln’s views on race? How did they evolve over the course of the war? Those who pursued escaping enslaved people were viewed very differently in the North and the South. How did those differing views lead to the Civil War? What was the Fugitive Slave Act?
Related home video titles:
Other true stories of slavery can be found in films like 12 Years a Slave, Harriet, and Amistad. Lincoln focuses on the President’s attempts to garner enough support to pass the Emancipation Proclamation while struggling to control the war effort. Glory tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first Union regiments composed of people of color. Django Unchained is the fictional story of a formerly enslaved man who seeks revenge on the man who bought his wife.