Friday, May 24, 2024

Apple TV Is Sitting on a $120 Mil Will Smith Movie for Fall, Plus Investors in His Company May Be Holding a $60 Mil Bag


So now what?

Last week, Apple TV must have been thrilled. They had a $120 million movie starring Will Smith, directed by Antoine Fuqua, all teed up for the next Oscar season. Smith plays a real life slave named Peter from a Louisiana plantation in 1863. They had the presumptive Oscar winner from this season, with another Oscar movie coming.

The movie, called “Emancipation,” is described this way according to “Collider”: Peter, a slave on a Louisiana plantation. After receiving a brutal whipping by one of the plantation’s overseers, Peter fled to the North, where he joined the Union Army. When Peter showed Army doctors his back during a medical examination, they took photos of his scars, and one photo known as “the scourged back” was published around the world, effectively going “viral” all the way back in 1863. The photo made its way around the world and was held up as proof of the cruelty of slavery in America. It solidified the abolitionist cause, and prompted many free Blacks to join the Union Army in order to fight racists in the South.

The film has been shot and is being readied for viewing this fall. But what will Apple do? Even six months from now every interviewer or reporter will ask Smith about what happened this week. Doing publicity or marketing for “Emancipation” will be a nightmare. Even with Smith’s resignation from the Academy today, we don’t know if there will be further repercussions.

Smith also has at least one film in pre-production called “Fast and Loose.” And several more cooking on the back burner including a remake of “Uptown Saturday Night” which he’s producing, “Karate Kid 2,” and “Hancock 2.” There are also myriad projects Smith is attached to as a producer.

And where does that leave that his relatively new business partners? In January, Will and Jada sold a minority share in their Westbrook Inc. to the media venture run by former Disney executives Tom Staggs and Kevin Mayer and financed by private-equity giant Blackstone Group. The pair anted up $60 million for a 10% stake in Westbrook. It may be worthless now.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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