Will Smith is the star of the film Emancipation, which takes place in the era of the American Civil War and in which Apple saw a reliable contender for the Oscar award. However, that was before Smith took the stage at the Academy Awards in March and punched comedian Chris Rock when the latter joked about Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, reports The New York Times.
Smith won Best Actor that night and has since resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The actor was also banned from attending any Academy-related events, including the telecast of the Oscars, for the next decade.
Now Apple has an unreleased $120 million film starring the actor. The question is whether the film, even if it succeeds artistically, can overcome the damage to Will Smith’s reputation. According to anonymous sources connected to the film, there were discussions within Apple about the release of the Emancipation till the end of the year. That would have made it eligible for award consideration, but Variety reported in May that the film’s release would be pushed back to 2023.
Emancipation, directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by William Collage, is based on the true story of a slave who escaped to the North and joined the Union Army to fight against his former captors. Filmed outside of New Orleans and somewhat delayed by Covid-19, it tells the story of a man known as “Broken Peter” whose scarred back was photographed and became a call to abolish the death penalty during the Civil War. Its filming ended about a month before the Oscar-2022 telecast in March of this year.
While Will Smith can still be nominated for his work, the backlash means Emancipation’s Oscar chances have plummeted. In addition, some representatives of the film industry believe that the release of Emancipation along with other contenders for”Oscar this year will only anger the jury of the Academy, which was confused by Smith’s actions.
Bill Cramer, the newly appointed executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said during a recent conversation that next year’s show won’t remember a slap in the face, even as a joke.
“We want to move forward and have an Oscar that celebrates cinema,” he said. “That’s what we’re focused on right now.”
Stephen Gilula, former co-head of Fox Searchlight, the studio behind Oscar winners 12 Years a Slave and Slumdog Millionaire, said Apple’s release of the film before the end of the year would put too much pressure on the film and slap it the center of the conversation.
“Regardless of the quality of the movie, all of the press, all the reviewers, all of the feature writers, all the awards prognosticators are going to be looking at it and talking about the slap,” Mr. Gilula explains. “There’s a very high risk that the film will not get judged on its pure merit. It puts it into a very untenable context.”
However, Apple already held a test screening of Emancipation to a general audience in Chicago earlier this year, and received an overwhelmingly positive response, especially for Smith’s performance. Viewers said in post-screening comments that they were unfazed by Will Smith’s recent public behavior.
Smith himself almost disappeared from the public eye after the Oscars. But in July, he posted a video on his YouTube channel saying he was “deeply sorry” for his behavior and apologized directly to Chris Rock and his family.
Public repentance has been viewed more than 3.8 million times since it was posted on July 29. However, it is unclear whether this improved public perception of the actor. Will Smith’s Q score, which measures the attractiveness of celebrities in the United States, plummeted after the Oscars. According to Variety, before this situation, Smith was consistently among the top five most popular celebrities in the country, along with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. However, by July, before the apology was published, it had fallen to 24 out of 39. Henry Schafer, executive vice president of Q Scores, called it a “precipitous decline.”