Fuqua directed the upcoming film centered around a man who escapes slavery, which was filmed prior to Smith's Oscars slap in March.
Though its release date was pushed back at one point, Apple TV+ announced last month that Emancipation would premiere in theaters on December 2 and streaming on December 9. Fuqua told Vanity Fair that there were never any talks about if the movie would come out, but the studio and filmmakers assessed when it should debut based on the situation.
"Of course I wanted people to see the film," Fuqua said. "My conversation was always, 'Isn't 400 years of slavery, of brutality, more important than one bad moment?'
Fuqua said the Oscars slap "didn't feel real" because he hadn't "met a nicer human being" than Smith, who was "kind to everyone" on set.
"So I saw a different person than that one moment in time, and so my reaction was that particular moment is very foreign to me when it comes to Will Smith," he said. "I have nothing but amazing things to say about Will Smith, really genuinely. You can ask anybody that worked on the movie, they'll tell you the same. Nicest person I've ever met in my life. Chris Rock — I know Chris — Chris is a good guy too. I've spent time with Chris, and I think it's an unfortunate event and I hope we can move forward and get past it."
In the interview with Vanity Fair, the director also pointed out how Smith's role in Emancipation was mentally and physically taxing on the actor and the crew.
"It's really hard to release a character who's been brutalized and called the N-word every day — constantly, every day — and still be the nicest person in the world," said Fuqua. "That, I know. So no excuses for anyone or anything, but I can say that he's a good man and I hope that people can forgive him and that we can move forward. I hope Chris and Will find a way to sit together publicly, privately, whatever, and make amends. I think it would be an incredible statement."