Set in the 1800s in the American South during the Civil War, “Emancipation” tells the story of a runaway slave, Peter (Will Smith). After fleeing the plantation where he was whipped nearly to death, he makes the dangerous journey to the North and joins up with the Union Army in the fight to end slavery for all. This $120 million Apple TV+ original film was inspired by a true story and by an infamous photograph of a real slave’s scarred back, which proved vital in the general public’s perception of slavery during those turbulent times.
Despite the controversy surrounding the film’s leading man, “Emancipation” has still garnered a great deal of Academy Awards buzz in the lead-up to its December release. Though there are a couple of big names in the main roles, the cast is packed with both lesser-known actors and plenty of familiar faces that you might recognize without knowing their names. This is where you’ve seen the cast of “Emancipation” before.
By far the biggest name in the cast of “Emancipation” is Will Smith who plays Peter, also known as “Whipped Peter.” This character was inspired in part by the infamous photograph of the real man and the real-life accounts of a different slave named Gordon who, just like his on-screen counterpart, escaped to the North and enlisted in the Union Army to earn his freedom under the Emancipation Proclamation. From his music career and his breakthrough acting role in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” to his starring roles in blockbuster franchises like “Men in Black” and “Bad Boys,” Smith has done it all. He even topped the Forbes list of Hollywood’s most bankable movie stars in 2009.
“Emancipation” is Smith’s first movie since winning the Academy Award for best lead actor for his performance in “King Richard,” marking Smith’s first Oscar after two prior nominations for “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “Ali.” However, the win was marred with controversy after Smith slapped guest presenter Chris Rock during the ceremony. He received a 10-year ban from all Academy events but despite this, he and “Emancipation” remain eligible for nomination consideration. This incident cast a bit of a cloud over the film, with Smith publicly saying he understands if audiences aren’t ready to welcome him back but that “my deepest hope is that my actions don’t penalize my team.”
If there is a second name on the cast of “Emancipation” that will be familiar to most moviegoers, it’s Ben Foster. In the role of Jim Fassel, Foster plays the film’s main antagonist who forces Peter into slavery, whips him mercilessly, and later gives chase after Peter makes a run for the North.
Foster mightn’t be as big of a name as Will Smith, but he is a star in his own right and has given plenty of great leading and supporting performances over the years. He began acting in the ’90s as a teenager with his first major gig coming in the form of a lead role in the short-lived Disney Channel sitcom “Flash Forward.” It wasn’t until adulthood that Foster started becoming a household name with notable roles like Angel in “X-Men: The Last Stand” and Russell Corwin on the HBO series “Six Feet Under.”
Films such as “3:10 to Yuma,” “Pandorum,” “The Mechanic,” “Rampart,” and “Lone Survivor” also afforded Foster memorable supporting roles. Though slightly more niche and arthouse than his biggest projects, films like “The Messenger” and “Leave No Trace” have given him demanding starring roles to sink his teeth into. The 2021 HBO film “The Survivor,” which Foster also produced, scored him his first Emmy nomination for outstanding television movie.
Steven Ogg plays the supporting role of Sergeant Howard in “Emancipation,” which is the biggest feature film of his career. Ogg’s face and especially his voice will be familiar to gamers as he provided the voice and likeness of the unhinged and volatile Trevor Philips in the critically acclaimed 2013 video game “Grand Theft Auto V.” He has also performed voice work for other video games such as the 2008 “Alone in the Dark” reboot. Ogg hasn’t had many live-action starring roles yet, but he does have memorable supporting performances over the years, including as a gameshow host in a segment of the 2022 horror anthology film “V/H/S/99.”
Though his film roles have been rather limited, Ogg has had a number of television parts. Vince Gilligan fans might recognize him from his two-episode run in “Better Call Saul,” and “The Walking Dead” viewers will remember him as Simon who appeared throughout Seasons 6, 7, and 8. He also played recurring characters in shows like “The Tick,” “Snowpiercer,” and “Westworld,” in which he appeared in a small role in Seasons 1, 2, and 4. Outside of the mainstream film and television industries, Ogg has appeared in countless short films and new-media productions, such as the “GTA VR” YouTube videos created by Corridor Digital.
Zimbabwean-Australian actor Charmaine Bingwa plays Dodienne, one of the main characters in “Emancipation.” Dodienne is the wife of Peter and is left alone in protecting and raising their children after he is ripped away from his family and forced into slavery. Bingwa is still early on in her acting career, having only begun acting in the 2010s, and made her feature film debut in 2018 with a small, unnamed part in the low-budget horror-comedy “Nekrotronic.” “Emancipation” is Bingwa’s biggest film to date and should serve as a compelling calling card for the future of her career.
If there is one role viewers will be familiar with, it is undoubtedly the Paramount+ original series “The Good Fight,” in which Bingwa plays the recurring supporting character of Carmen Moyo. Frequent podcast listeners may also recognize her voice as the main character of the scripted horror audio show “The Burned Photo.” Most of Bingwa’s other acting projects have been in seldom-seen short films. In addition to acting, Bingwa has also shown an interest in working behind the camera, having written, produced, directed, and starred in the short film “In the Shadows” and the 2018 series “Little Sista.”
Veteran character actor Paul Ben-Victor was brought in to play the role of Major Halstead. Though he rarely ever finds himself in a starring role, Ben-Victor has been a part of nearly 200 films and shows throughout his 35-year career (according to IMDb). There is a high likelihood that you will recognize his face even if you don’t know his name.
Fans of HBO’s “The Wire” will know Ben-Victor as Spiros Vondopolous, the right-hand man of The Greek. Others might recognize him from shows such as “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Preacher,” “Santa Clarita Diet,” “My Name is Earl,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and dozens of other popular shows that he had small parts in. Other series like “Entourage,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” and “Pam & Tommy” provided him with more substantial roles, while “In Plain Sight” and the short-lived “Vinyl” gave him main cast duties.
Ben-Victor’s film roles are a bit less frequent than his television gigs, but he has still given a handful of noteworthy movie performances. His supporting role in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is his most notable film in the 2010s, but further back in his career he featured in movies like “A Civil Action,” “Tombstone,” and “True Romance.”
Similar to Smith’s Peter, the character of Andrew Cailloux was inspired by a real person without being a direct one-to-one portrayal. The real man was named Andre Cailloux and he was the first Black man to earn the rank of Officer within the Union Army. Portraying this important figure in “Emancipation” is Mustafa Shakir.
Though he began acting in the mid-’90s with a small guest appearance in “New York Undercover,” Shakir’s acting career began to blossom in the 2010s with consistently strong roles. Fans of S. Craig Zahler will undoubtedly recognize Shakir from his memorable supporting role as Andre the prison guard in “Brawl in Cell Block 99.”
Other memorable parts have all been in the realm of prestige television made for HBO, Netflix, and Cinemax. His roles as Bushmaster in “Luke Cage” and as Big Mike in “The Deuce” are arguably his two biggest and most recognizable roles, but he also played major characters in “Quarry,” “Jett,” and “The Night Of.” In 2021, Shakir landed a main role in the Netflix live-action adaptation of “Cowboy Bebop” as Jet Black.
The supporting role of Knowls is played by Aaron Moten in “Emancipation.” Moten is a young actor and is still near the beginning of his career. His feature-film debut came in 2014 with an unnamed extra appearance in the Chris Rock comedy “Top Five” and he made his television debut that same year with a small role in a single episode of “NCIS.”
Even though he hasn’t racked up the same volume of credits as the majority of his “Emancipation” castmates, there are still a couple of movies and TV shows that you might recognize him from. His biggest films include a small part in “Ricki and the Flash” and a much larger role as Ham in 2022’s “Father Stu” with Mark Wahlberg. In the world of television, you are most likely to recognize Moten from his lead role in the Netflix series “Disjointed” as Travis. He has previously played recurring characters in the Fox series “Next” and Amazon Prime’s “Mozart in the Jungle.” Moten also appeared on HBO’s “The Night Of” with his “Emancipation” costar Mustafa Shakir.
David Denman plays the role of General Dwight, who is based on the real military figure of Brigadier General William Dwight. As the acting commander of the Black soldier regiment that Peter fights alongside, General Dwight is one of the film’s key military figures on the Union side of the conflict.
As a character actor, Denman has been working steadily since the ’90s, but his projects grew more substantial over the years. The roles most people will recognize him from are his recurring television roles in the shows “Drop Dead Diva,” “Parenthood,” and “Outcast,” but his most notable part is as warehouse worker Roy Anderson in “The Office.” In 2021, he also landed a major role in HBO Max’s “Mare of Easttown” alongside Kate Winslet as Frank Sheehan.
His career has played out more on television, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been in some major films. In supporting roles, some viewers may recognize Denman from “Logan Lucky,” “Brightburn,” “The Gift,” “13 Hours,” and “Greenland.”
Jayson Warner Smith plays the role of John Lyons, a Captain in the Union army. Smith has spent his acting career dividing his time between film, television, and theater and while Atlanta locals might recognize him from the stage, most people will know him from his work on screen. The biggest films he has been a part of include “99 Homes” with Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon, “Mississippi Grind” with Ryan Reynolds, and “The Birth of a Nation,” the latter of which also centered around slavery in the Southern U.S.
Smith’s television roles might be even more recognizable than his film roles. His most notable TV characters have been Wendall Jelks in “Rectify” and Gavin in “The Walking Dead,” in which he appeared in eight episodes for each show. Though he remains focused primarily on acting, there are other fields that Smith might be recognized from. He has released a couple of original songs and he is a noted motorcycle enthusiast, even creating a travel documentary about his experiences riding solo cross-country titled “Learning to Fly.”
Grant Harvey plays the supporting role of Leeds in “Emancipation.” Having only started picking up significant roles in the 2010s, Harvey is still relatively early on in his career. He cut his teeth in the industry the same way many actors do — by appearing as small side characters in individual episodes of syndicated television shows.
“CSI,” “CSI: New York,” “CSI: Cyber,” “Criminal Minds,” “Bones,” “Seal Team,” “NCIS,” and “NCIS: New Orleans” all featured Harvey in one-off roles, but he has had more substantial television roles as well. He portrayed the recurring character of Colin in the TNT series “Animal Kingdom,” appearing in most episodes of the fourth season, and he played one of the leads in the short-lived ABC series “The Crossing,” which was canceled after one season in 2018. Harvey has appeared in other TV shows like “Chicago Fire,” “Big Sky,” and “Station 19,” plus a two-episode role as a police officer in Netflix’s “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.”
Jabbar Lewis plays the supporting role of Tomas, one of Peter’s older children in “Emancipation.” Lewis is a young actor still at the start of his professional career in the film industry. His first feature film credit came in 2019 with the family-friendly movie “Adventure Force 5,” which was also one of the first films made as a VUDU original. His only other industry production prior to “Emancipation” was a small unnamed role in the pilot episode of the Amazon Prime original series “The Terminal List” starring Chris Pratt.
Though his professional resume is still in its infancy, Lewis has a significant back catalog of web content that you might recognize him from. Lewis acted in the web series “Drea & Michellé” and “The Vacation” with popular social media influencer Tré Melvin. He also has his own YouTube channel where he shares a variety of content including reaction and skincare videos.
Jesse C. Boyd plays the role of Mike Hurley in “Emancipation.” Boyd got his start by appearing in small, sometimes unnamed roles in individual episodes of shows like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and “Cold Case.” His acting career received a bit of a boost in 2016 when he landed a recurring role as Falkoff in the AMC series “TURN: Washington’s Spies.” He followed this up with recurring parts in “Mindhunter,” “Hap and Leonard,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Outer Banks.”
In later years, Boyd has been a part of a few notable films, including “Hillbilly Elegy,” starring Glenn Close and Amy Adams, “The Highwaymen” with Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, and “Palmer” with Justin Timberlake. In 2022, Boyd played Mulaney in “Halloween Ends,” the officer who hits on Allyson (Andi Matichak) before getting murdered. Outside of mainstream film and television, fans of Rooster Teeth will be familiar with Boyd as the star of “Day 5,” the company’s first scripted drama web series. Boyd was also the lead singer of the band Prettydead Ferrari and directed some of the group’s music videos.
Playing the supporting role of Bijoux in “Emancipation” is Britton Webb. With his first professional credit being the 2017 indie western “Blood Country,” Webb is relatively new to the world of acting. Since he has only been at it for a couple of years, “Emancipation” is his biggest film thus far, with his only other major feature film to date being 2021’s “The Card Counter,” — starring Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish — in which he plays Tye Sheridan’s father.
Even though he has a limited number of acting credits, Webb has additional experience within the film industry, having worked in numerous crew positions including script supervisor, production coordinator, and assorted roles in the sound department. He is also an aspiring screenwriter and director, though he has yet to earn any official credits in this capacity. Similar to “Emancipation,” one of his screenplays — “Where Elephants Fought,” adapted from the novel written by Bridget Smith — is also set in the midst of the Civil War.
Mark Ashworth plays the supporting role of R Louis Fabian in “Emancipation.” Ashworth’s face will likely ring a bell if his name doesn’t. As a hard-working character actor, Ashworth has racked up over 100 movie and TV roles (per IMDb) in an impressively short time. Despite having less than 15 years of experience, Ashworth has appeared in several films since his debut in 2008.
Many of Ashworth’s roles in larger movies and shows are unnamed, such as “Lawless” where he is credited as Hophead #1, “Roots” as County Crier, “NCIS: New Orleans” as Bomb Maker, “The Magnificent Seven” as Preacher, “Logan” as Bartender, “Jungle Cruise” as Society Member, and “Black Panther” as Security Guard. Chances are you have seen Ashworth’s face on the screen before, but he might not have had enough air time to leave a significant impression. “Emancipation” is set to become one of his most substantial roles in a major film, though he also had a larger part in the 2022 Peacock original horror film “They/Them” in the role of Balthazar.