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What Rotten Tomatoes Critics Are Saying About Emancipation

Films typically rooted in historical fact generally impress critics. "Emancipation" is a recently released film loosely based on a series of early photographs of a man named Gordon that exposed the horrors of slavery to the general public of the United States and helped sway public opinion in favor of the abolition of slavery. Following the escaped slave known as Peter (Will Smith), "Emancipation" is a tour through the swampy environment of Louisiana as Peter attempts to avoid capture. This film is the first since Smith's famous outburst earlier this year, and all eyes are on how this movie will be received by both the public and critics alike.

Speaking with BET in November, Smith had a chance to discuss "Emancipation," and he said, "You know, there's been a certain amount of emotional emancipation that I've been forced to discover within myself and in my faith in these last few months." Smith then added that he felt connected to his character in the film and clarified his thoughts by saying, "His body was enslaved, but his mind was emancipated. His mind was free in his trust, faith, and surrender to God. There was a certain inner emancipation that Peter had, and that was a big part of what I wanted to study. I would say Peter has been a great friend in my heart these last few months." Now that "Emancipation" is available on Apple TV+, what are critics saying about the film? Is it a return to form for Smith or a dud that can't quite escape the mire?

Emancipation has been met with middling reviews

As of the time of this writing, the aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes gives "Emancipation" a critic score of 49%, with the general consensus being that the movie suffers from trying to be both an action movie and one inspired by real-life, harrowing events. Peter Travers of ABC News said in their review, "After the infamous slap that sidelined his career, Will Smith returns as a runaway slave in a sorry but noble misfire that offers the disgraced actor pitifully few chances to bring dimension to a script that traps in a swamp of misery-porn cliches."

Likewise, Dwight Brown felt like "Emancipation" was attempting to channel the essence of previous escape movies like "The Defiant Ones" or "The Great Escape," and in doing so, reduces the horrors of slavery to a mere gimmick. Odie Henderson of the Boston Globe also shared this sentiment and said that "Emancipation" would have been better served as a straight action-revenge film instead of attempting to win awards. Adam Graham of Detroit News referenced the historical photograph and felt like the movie could not match the power of the photographs on which the film is based. In their review, Reel Talk with Chuck and Pam stated, "Filmmakers take poetic license, that's a given. But what Fuqua and screenwriter Collage do here is extreme. In turning Gordon into an action hero, they minimize his experiences and do him a great disservice."

However, not all reviews were entirely negative, with Matthew Monagle of the Austin Chronicle writing, "If you like your Civil War films light on historicity but awash in alligator knife fights, then 'Emancipation' is the movie for you." In other words, "Emancipation" struggles a bit, at least according to Rotten Tomatoes.