EMANCIPATION*CUT TO THE CHASE*
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy
The opening text states that shortly after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and declared slaves to be free, 35,000 slaves in rebellious states awaited for the Union army to liberate them. They had the choice of waiting for them, or escaping to freedom themselves.
Louisiana, 1863 – A slave named Peter (Will Smith) is spending his final moments with his family – wife Dodienne (Charmaine Bingwa) and kids Betsy (Imani Pullum), Scipion (Jeremiah Friedlander), and Laurette (Jordyn McIntosh) – before he is set to be moved to a new plantation in Clinton. Peter is forcibly removed from his home, but he fights the handlers so that he may return to his family. When one of the men turns a gun on Dodienne, Peter relents and is taken along with other slaves. One of the handlers describes Peter as being the best blacksmith.
Peter and other slaves arrive in Clinton, where they are put to work and endure endless abuse and discrimination. One slave who had previously tried to run, John (Michael Luwoye), is branded on his cheek. At night, Peter talks about his faith in God, but John dismisses him because he states that there is no God for them to be in their current positions.
Peter overhears that Lincoln’s army is in Baton Rouge, and that many slaves are running in that direction for freedom. He devises a plan to cross through the swamps to escape. When being forced to bury dead slaves in a ditch, Peter waits for explosions to go off so he may attack and kill the handlers. He and several slaves begin running toward the swamp, chased by a group led by Fassel (Ben Foster). One of the slaves, Tomas (Jabbar Lewis), is attacked by the handlers’ hounds. Fassel tells Tomas he can go free if he tells the men where the other slaves are headed. When he says Baton Rouge, Fassel lets him wander far enough into the swamp before he shoots Tomas and lets the gators have what’s left of him.
Peter splits up with the other slaves and begins to make his own way to freedom, while Fassel and his men continue their pursuit. Peter is spotted by a slave owner’s child daughter and has men chase him before he retreats to the swamp. He fights off a gator and tends to his wound while he hides in a tree.
Fassel and his men, accompanied by house slave Knowls (Aaron Moten), stop for the night and cook a gator. Fassel recounts a story about his childhood where a female slave would take care of him and was friendly toward him. When Fassel asked his father to invite her to dinner, his father replied that giving slaves anything would lead to them taking what the men believed they were entitled to. After Fassel told his father that he had been sneaking food to the woman, his father stabbed her and left her in the fields to die over three days.
Back on the other plantation, Dodienne is told that the plantation’s owner, Captain Lyons, has sold her to another owner, and that she will not be taking her children and must marry another man. She prepares her children for separation. While working on a cotton machine, Dodienne sticks her arm in to injure herself and make her unable to be sold.
Peter continues to do what he can to survive, foraging for food and water, and also trying to keep himself warm. He also uses onions to mask his scent from the slave owners’ dogs. He runs into John and gives him onions to mask his scent as well. When Fassel and his men get close, John climbs a tree while Peter hides. Fassel shoots John down and decapitates him when he will not give up Peter’s location.
At night, Peter comes across a burned-down house where the family has been murdered. He finds a slave girl and tries to carry her to safety, but she is gravely injured and dies after giving him a cross necklace. A slave handler appears and attempts to take Peter in, but he manages to shoot him, along with Knowls. Before killing him, Peter tells Knowls he is the worst kind of person for supporting his abusers.
In the morning, Peter gets closer to Baton Rouge as he hears the cannons of Lincoln’s army. However, Fassel catches up to him and attempts to forcefully apprehend him. The Union soldiers arrive and shoot Fassel in the neck, killing him. They then bring Peter with them.
Peter is taken to a camp where he is given medical attention and is then told he must enlist with the Union in order to ensure his and his family’s freedom. Peter is then guided to a tent where photographers take pictures of his bare back to show the many lashing scars on his body, so that the rest of the world may see the horrors of slavery.
Peter becomes a soldier and walks with Captain Andrew Cailloux (Mustafa Shakir) to meet with General Dwight (David Denman). When Dwight questions Peter’s motives, Peter states that he will fight against the people that abused him. The soldiers are tasked with infiltrating a Confederate camp and seizing their cannons. As the men charge into battle, many severe casualties occur, including Cailloux. Peter leads a charge where the Union soldiers overwhelm the Confederate soldiers, overtaking the camp.
The Native Guard marches through Peter’s old plantation, where he witnesses Lyons being executed. The people on the plantation are declared free, and they celebrate their news. Peter walks around and searches for his family, and after a while, he has a tearfully joyful reunion with them. They begin to pray.
The ending text states that the image of the man Peter was based on became a world-known image and cry against slavery. On June 19th, 1865, more than 4 million enslaved African Americans were recognized as free.
Peter is a slave who escapes his plantation to free his family by meeting President Lincoln's Union army in Baton Rouge. He is pursued by a man named Fassel and other slave handlers. Peter endures much trauma and finds ways to survive before reaching Baton Rouge. The Union soldiers kill Peter and enlist his aid in fighting Confederate soldiers. After they overtake a Confederate camp, Peter is brought back to his old home where the other slaves are freed and he is reunited with his family.