‘Emancipation’ Screenwriter Bill Collage Talks Will Smith Controversy and the Art of an Important Film

Will Smith in "Emancipation," premiering December 9, 2022 on Apple TV+.
Will Smith and Ben Foster in “Emancipation,” premiering December 9, 2022 on Apple TV+.
Apple TV+

Screenwriter Bill Collage is cucumber cool. He’s about to introduce a screening of the new Will Smith movie Emancipation at Sag Harbor Cinema on Monday evening, December 5.

The Apple TV+ release was thought to be a slam dunk for Oscar consideration this year. Then last year’s Oscars happened.

Collage, who splits his time between Sag Harbor and Austin, Texas isn’t looking back. He’s focused on easily the most important film of his career: The story of a slave who, despite freedom, has to fight his way across the South.

Will Smith, Michael Luwoye and Gilbert Owuor in "Emancipation," premiering December 9, 2022 on Apple TV+.
Will Smith, Michael Luwoye and Gilbert Owuor in “Emancipation,” premiering December 9, 2022 on Apple TV+.Apple TV+

The film is inspired by the 1863 photos of “Whipped Peter,” taken during a Union Army medical examination, that showed his mutilated back from enslavers’ whips, first appeared in Harper’s Weekly and ultimately contributed to growing public opposition to slavery.

An interesting local part of this story is the writer himself who penned part of Emancipation in the Sag Harbor Cinema where he had a working office. He leads me to that space last night. He is happy to be in his working home.

Here, Dan’s Papers’ favorite entertainment reporter and man about town Bill McCuddy chatted with Collage shortly before Monday evening’s screening at Sag Harbor Cinema.

Bill McCuddy and Bill Collage at the Sag Harbor Cinema screening of "Emancipation."
Bill McCuddy and Bill Collage at the Sag Harbor Cinema screening of “Emancipation.”Courtesy Bill Collage

Bill Collage on Emancipation, Will Smith, More

Dan’s Papers: This is the year of the important movie, Tar, Till, Women Talking and this film fits into that mold. How does that feel?

Bill Collage: (Smiling) Being a part of that conversation is unbelievable. I couldn’t be more honored.

DP: And it’s important for Will.

BC: Will was there from beginning to end. He’s given his heart and soul to this movie. And when we wrapped in January of this year, it was after seven months.

It was supposed to be three months. And so for him to dive into this world and do what he did for the movie was just unbelievable.

Traveling the world with him and seeing the power that he has to convey stories and ideas is an unbelievable thing to witness.

DP: Now we’re standing in a room in Sag Harbor where you actually wrote some of this film?

BC: I’m not sure there’s another movie written in a cinema. It’s a pretty interesting thing.

A lot of it was written here and a lot of it was written in Lousiana, in the swamps in real time on the set. But to have part of the DNA of this film here in this room is very special.

Especially to share it with so many community members and friends who helped me get through it.

Will Smith in "Emancipation," premiering December 9, 2022 on Apple TV+.
Will Smith in “Emancipation,” premiering December 9, 2022 on Apple TV+.Apple TV+

DP: You live here and now you’re in Austin as well.

BC: Sag Harbor will always be home. My kids were raised here. I’ve been here for a long time.

DP: And Will has had a challenging year. So this motion picture is very important for him, correct?

BC: I think his work speaks for itself and it’s an unbelievable achievement that he’s done in this movie. Both producing it and starring in the best performance I’ve ever seen.

DP: Is he going to be nominated again this year?

BC: (Laughs) That’s out of my pay grade. I’m not in the Academy.

Emancipation, directed by Antoine Fuqua, hits Apple TV+ this Friday, December 9.

Director Antoine Fuqua and Will Smith behind the scenes of “Emancipation,” premiering December 9, 2022 on Apple TV+.
Director Antoine Fuqua and Will Smith behind the scenes of “Emancipation,” premiering December 9, 2022 on Apple TV+.Apple TV+

Bill McCuddy is a frequent Dan’s contributor. He also cohosts a movie review show on PBS/AllArts and has three podcasts including “Sitting Around Talking Movies” and “The Accutron Show.” He lives in Bridgehampton with his wife, a dog and cat and an 87-inch Sony LCD TV in a bedroom he says he “rarely leaves.”

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