After multiple delays, Apple TV+ “Emancipation” starring Will Smith finally completed production last year and was set to release this year. But since the infamous Oscar slap incident, Apple Studios now facing a “Will Smith problem”.
At the 94th Academy Awards, Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock over a joke on his wife’s, Jada Pinkett, hair. In the aftermath, Smith has been banned for 10 years from attending Academy-related events, including the Oscar telecast, and has surrendered his membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
The public’s opinion of the veteran star has also plummeted. New York Times reports that Smith’s Q score has drastically.
Before the slap, Mr. Smith consistently ranked among the top five celebrities in the country, alongside Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, according to data provided to Variety. When his appeal was measured again in July, (before he released his video apology) it dropped to a 24 from a 39, what Henry Schafer, executive vice president of the Q Scores Company, called a “precipitous decline.”
Because of Smith’s current reputation, Apple TV+ is in a lose-lose situation. The Studio can not decide whether to release the $120 million movie at the end of 2022, delay it till 2023 or shelve it altogether.
Apple TV+ can not decide the fate of the $120 million movie Emancipation because of Will Smith’s reputation
Apple TV+ acquired the rights for “Emancipation” for $120 million in 2020 starring Will Smith as the lead and directed by Antoine Fuqua. The story of the action thriller is based on the life of a slave “Peter” during the American civil war who escapes and joins the Union Army to fight his captors.
Because of the quality of the content and Smith’s performance, Emancipation was already generating a 2023 award buzz. But the tragic slap changed everything.
To some, the film may be too good to keep quiet. Apple set up a general audience test screening of “Emancipation” in Chicago earlier this year, according to three people with knowledge of the event who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss it publicly.
They said it generated an overwhelmingly positive reaction, specifically for Mr. Smith’s performance, which one of the people called “volcanic.” Audience members, during the after-screening feedback, said they were not turned off by Mr. Smith’s recent public behavior.
However, it is feared that the movie’s press, marketing, reviews, and even award nominations will be shadowed by the slap which puts Apple TV+ in a tight spot.
“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 said in an interview. “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.”
“If they shelve the movie, does that tarnish Apple’s reputation? If they release it, does it tarnish their reputation?” asked Stephen Galloway, the dean of Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts and the former executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter. “Hollywood likes a win-win situation. This one is lose- lose.”
Previously, it was also reported that Apple TV+ and Netflix cancelled their bids for the Will Smith biopic which indicates that the Studio is distancing itself from the star.