Is “Emancipation” based on a true story? The real photo behind the Will Smith film +2023

If you can get over the fact that Will Smith beat Chris Rock at the Oscars eight months ago, you might learn a thing or two from it emancipationthe new historical drama that started streaming AppleTV+ today.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, infinite, what is my name: Muhammad Ali) with a screenplay by William N. Collage, emancipation tells the brutal story of a man named Peter (Smith) who escapes from slavery in the Deep South in 1863. Although President Lincoln declared all slaves free with the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War raged on, and slaves in the South were not legally recognized as free until the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865. Some, like Smith’s character in emancipationShe chose to take freedom for herself.

emancipation was inspired by a real enslaved man who became famous for a photograph showing horrible whip scars on his back. Although Fuqua tries hard to recreate this real photo, much of it is emancipation is invented. Read on to learn more about the emancipation true story.

is emancipation Based on a true story?

Yes. emancipation was inspired by the true story of an enslaved man who became known as Gordon, photographed in 1863. The photograph of Gordon, showing severe scars on his back after being flogged, was often titled “The Scourged Back” and was published worldwide by Harper’s Weekly magazine on July 4, 1863. The striking image stirred the movement of the abolitionists when people were confronted with stark photographic evidence of the cruelty of slavery.

Who was Peter, aka Will Smith’s character in emancipationin real life?

in the Emancipation, Smith’s character – of whom the famous “Scourged Back” photo was taken towards the end of the film – is named Peter, not Gordon. That’s because there is propose research that the article in Harper’s Weekly of 1863 describing the life of a slave named “Gordon” was actually fabricated and was possibly a photograph of a man named Peter.

Corresponding an article from 2014 by David Silkenat of the University of Edinburgh, a copy of a photo from the shoot was found in the National Archives. On the back of the photo, a note identified the man as Peter and read: Warden Artayou Carrier whipped me. I was sore in bed from the flogging for two months. My master comes after I’ve been flogged; he dismissed the overseer. Poor Peter’s real words, captured as he sat for his picture. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 4/2/1863.”

The Harper’s Weekly article contained different, front-facing photos of the man identified as Gordon, but it appears to be a completely different person than the photo of the man with his back scourged. Harper’s Weekly claimed the photos all showed “Gordon,” who is described as an escaped slave “running through the swamps and bayous, chased as he had been for days and nights by his master with several neighbors and a pack of bloodhounds” before he took refuge in a Union soldier’s camp in Baton Rouge. To this day, many institutions – including The Metropolitan Museum of Artwho has the photo in their collection – repeat this story.

In his research, however, Silkenat argues that readers of the time had little faith in the article that accompanied the photo, and that readers today should also exercise caution. It was really about the photo, which, as opposed to an illustration, was proof that something “really” happened.

Carte-de-visite of a formerly enslaved man identified only as Private Gordon.Photo: Heritage Images via Getty Images

How accurate is the Will Smith emancipation Movie based on true story?

Because historians know so little about the real man behind the Scourged Back photograph, it’s impossible to say exactly how emancipation is to real life. Director Antoine Fuqua and screenwriter William N. Collage captured some of the details described in the Harper’s Weekly Story in the film, including a detail about Peter/Gordon rubbing himself with onions to shake off the dogs’ smell.

However, because the accuracy of the story surrounding the photo itself is so debatable, much of Peter’s story is in emancipation is completely made up. Peter’s backstory, wife and family are all fictional. The ruthless slave owner Fassel, played by Ben Foster, is also fictional. And the Harper’s Weekly Article definitely didn’t mention anything about Gordon/Peter wrestling an alligator.

That is, it is true that President Lincoln declared enslaved people in the United States free with the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but that slaves were not legally freed until two years later, when the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865. As shown in the film during those two years, hundreds chose to flee to Union territory.

In conversation with the Los Angeles Times, director Antoine Fuqua spoke about how he was inspired by the real man in the photo to tell a fictional story that still reflects the truth of the time. “Peter was an inspirational character,” Fuqua said. “The fact that a man from 1863 went through hell still inspires us to tell stories about him and his journey. The film is about family. It’s about belief. It’s about an inspiring, selfless person.”

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