Emancipation Director Defends Releasing Movie After Will Smith's 'One Bad Moment': 'Move Forward'

Antoine Fuqua, Will Smith
Antoine Fuqua, Will Smith

Jon Kopaloff/Getty; ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Antoine Fuqua; Will Smith

Emancipation director Antoine Fuqua hopes audiences can look past Will Smith's Oscars outburst and appreciate their new movie.

Fuqua (Training Day) directed the upcoming drama about a man who escapes slavery, which was filmed prior to the controversial moment when Smith, 54, struck Chris Rock onstage at the Oscars on March 27.

Though Emancipation's release date was up in the air at one point, last month Apple TV+ announced that it would debut in theaters Dec. 2 then stream Dec. 9, qualifying it for the upcoming awards season. (Though Smith is banned from attending Academy events for the next 10 years, he is still eligible to be nominated and win.)

Fuqua, 56, told Vanity Fair that there was never any conversation "about the movie not coming out" but the studio and filmmakers had to assess the situation and ultimately decided it didn't need further postponement.

"Of course I wanted people to see the film," said the director. "My conversation was always, 'Isn't 400 years of slavery, of brutality, more important than one bad moment?' We were in Hollywood, and there's been some really ugly things that have taken place, and we've seen a lot of people get awards that have done some really nasty things."

RELATED: Jamie Foxx Praises Will Smith's 'Incredible' Emancipation Movie Months After Oscars Controversy

Will Smith in Emancipation
Will Smith in Emancipation

Apple TV+ Poster for Emancipation (2022)

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"So I think Apple considered all those things, and we discussed a lot of those things. Then a decision was made by the people in charge of distribution and the money at Apple — and I'm grateful, I'm really grateful," added Fuqua.

Fuqua said the moment Smith struck Rock at the Oscars "didn't feel real to me at all" because he hadn't "met a nicer human being" before and noted that Smith was "kind to everyone on the set" of Emancipation.

"So I saw a different person than that one moment in time, and so my reaction was that particular moment is very foreign to me when it comes to Will Smith," he explained. "I have nothing but amazing things to say about Will Smith, really genuinely. You can ask anybody that worked on the movie, they'll tell you the same. Nicest person I've ever met in my life. Chris Rock — I know Chris — Chris is a good guy too. I've spent time with Chris, and I think it's an unfortunate event and I hope we can move forward and get past it."

The director pointed out that the role and "crazy" production was mentally and physically taxing on Smith and the crew.

"It's really hard to release a character who's been brutalized and called the N-word every day — constantly, every day — and still be the nicest person in the world," said Fuqua. "That, I know. So no excuses for anyone or anything, but I can say that he's a good man and I hope that people can forgive him and that we can move forward. I hope Chris and Will find a way to sit together publicly, privately, whatever, and make amends. I think it would be an incredible statement."

Smith — who declined to address the Oscars situation in the Vanity Fair article but has apologized publicly in a previous video — told the magazine getting into character was "grueling; physically, emotionally and mentally in every way."

"And yet, I don't think I would want to 'shake off' Peter. The concept that Peter illuminated for me is that heaven and hell are states of consciousness," the Oscar winner added. "For me to have the opportunity to walk in Peter's trial, and try to understand and dissect what is going on in the heart and mind of a man who has endured what he has endured — and survived — is a gift. It is a source of new inspiration and has helped me to cultivate a higher capacity for empathy."

The actor has hosted several private screenings of Emancipation in recent weeks with various celebrities in attendances, including Rihanna, Tyler Perry, Jamie Foxx, Dave Chappelle, LeBron James and more.