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Will Smith Says He Understands If People Are 'Not Ready' to See Emancipation After Oscars Incident

People 11/28/2022 Tommy McArdle

David Livingston/Getty Will Smith © Provided by People David Livingston/Getty Will Smith

Will Smith says he will "absolutely respect" moviegoers who are "not ready" to see his upcoming film Emancipation in the wake of his controversy at the 94th Academy Awards.

On Sunday, Smith, who won Best Actor earlier this year at the ceremony earlier this year shortly after smacking Chris Rock onstage, told Fox 5 DC reporter Kevin McCarthy he's now concerned that his "actions don't penalize" the other creatives who worked on the film.

"I completely understand that if someone is not ready, I would absolutely respect that and allow them their space to not be ready," Smith told McCarthy in a clip of the interview. "My deepest concern is my team — [director Antoine Fuqua] has done what I think is the greatest work of his entire career."

Smith continued to say that the creatives he worked with on Emancipation "have done some of the best work of their entire careers" and added that "my deepest hope is that my actions don't penalize my team." 

"At this point, that's what I'm working for, that's what I'm hoping for," Smith said of why he hopes audiences see the movie. "I'm hoping that the material, the power of the film, the timeliness of the story, I'm hoping that the good that can be done would open people's hearts at a minimum to see and recognize and support the incredible artists in and around this film."

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Smith said playing Peter, the man running from slave hunters at the heart of Emancipation, served as "one of the most grueling and transformative processes of my entire career."

Apple TV+ Will Smith in Emancipation © Provided by People Apple TV+ Will Smith in Emancipation

"You take a little something away from every character, as an actor you take a little something away, but this particular process, Peter's journey, it sort of married with an internal yearning that I was having myself in that search for the enduring faith," Smith said.

"[The movie] came into my life in a time that I was seeking and I was searching," the actor added. "And I learned many things from Peter and I'm absolutely changed for having this spiritual run-in with this great man."

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Apple TV+ Poster for Emancipation (2022) © Provided by People Apple TV+ Poster for Emancipation (2022)

In Emancipation, Smith stars as Peter, a man whose escape from slavery forces him to rely "on his wits, unwavering faith and deep love for his family" as he runs from slave hunters and through Louisiana on his journey toward freedom.

The upcoming movie is inspired by "the 1863 photos of 'Whipped Peter,' taken during a Union Army medical examination, that first appeared in Harper's Weekly," a synopsis for the film reads.

One image from the set of photos called "The Scourged Back" shows the man's wounded back after a severe whipping from his enslavers — a photograph that "ultimately contributed to growing public opposition to slavery," according to the synopsis.

RELATED: Will Smith Plays a Man Fighting for His Freedom in Intense Emancipation Trailer

Apple TV+ © Provided by People Apple TV+

Smith resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was eventually banned from attending Academy events for a decade after the incident at the Oscars in March.

Entertainment Weekly Awards Correspondent Dave Karger told PEOPLE in October that Smith is "technically eligible to be nominated and even win another award" at next year's ceremony.

Karger said that Emancipation's release plan means that Smith "could feasibly be a nominee again" at 2023's Oscars ceremony.

"But he wouldn't be able to accept the award in person if he were to win," Karger told PEOPLE.

Emancipation premieres in theaters Dec. 2 and begins streaming globally on Apple TV+ Dec. 9.

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