What’s next for Will Smith? That’s the question. Post-Oscars, Will and Jada have been quiet, sitting in their LA mansion and hopefully resting and figuring out their next moves. It would not surprise me if there was some kind of Black Hollywood-organized meeting involving Chris Rock and the Smiths very soon, where everything gets hashed out. But what about Will’s career? What about his reputation? It should be said that before the slap, Will had (easily) one of the best reputations in Hollywood. He was known as a total professional, no hints of on-set drama, and someone who is especially supportive of his fellow actors and costars. That was even seen throughout the awards season, as he used his appearances to highlight the work of his Black female costars, Aunjanue Ellis, Demi Singleton and Saniyya Sidney. He has friends. Powerful friends. But will that be enough? Some highlights from this Hollywood Reporter story about what’s next:
Will has a good reputation predating the slap: “He’s not kryptonite yet,” says one studio executive. “He has to sit in the penalty box for a bit. He’s going to do some interview with someone like Gayle King and it will kind of wash away.” Smith’s long history in the business will help, this person continues: “He has never been violent on set. He has been extra accommodating. And you read about what he did on the King Richard set.” (Among other gestures, Smith gave the film’s cast bonuses to compensate for the film’s day-and-date release on HBO Max.)
Bolstering his image: If he could publicly reconcile with Chris Rock, for example, that might help bolster his image. But this top industry veteran is a bit more cautious, saying anyone casting Smith in a movie or series would have to weigh the challenge of trying to promote a project knowing that reporters inevitably would ask Smith and fellow castmembers about the incident. “I think [studios] would think twice — do they need the aggravation?” he says. “Everyone would do the equation. ‘I’ve got Will Smith but now I’ve got this baggage and they’re going to re-show the slap. Do I need that, and is so-and-so available?’ The other side is, ‘I’ve got Will Smith and he needs a comeback and I’ll restore his luster.’ You would weigh factors — what the movie is, what the cost is. If [his reps] say, ‘Will really wants to do this and it’s important to him,’ there are ways for him to say, ‘I’m cutting my price but not [permanently] cutting it.’”
This woman sounds like a piece of work: But a marketing executive says she thinks Smith will face more lasting damage. She feels that he revealed a dark side and that the whole sequence of events — the slap, the self-justifying acceptance speech, the dancing at the Vanity Fair party and an apology on Instagram that struck her as shallow and disingenuous — will inflict lasting damage. She also thinks Smith’s long career has left him overexposed. Some of his more recent projects, including 2019’s Gemini Man and Collateral Beauty in 2016, have been poorly reviewed and underperformed, she points out.
Moving to producing? Smith now has Apple+’s slave escape drama Emancipation in postproduction. The streamer had planned a 2022 debut but has not dated its release. Apple declined to comment. Otherwise, Smith has a few projects in preproduction, including Bad Boys 4, but no start dates are set. One studio executive wonders whether Smith will be eager to work in front of the camera again now that he has an Oscar, or whether he will focus on producing.
Whether Smith would be permanently expelled from the Academy: One studio believes the proper response from the Academy to be expelling Smith permanently — which might actually be doing him a favor. “It won’t affect his career, but people will think he got his punishment and we can forgive him,” he says. “And he can say, ‘That’s what I deserve. I disrespected the Academy and that’s what I deserve.’” (Smith would still be eligible for awards.)
You know what strikes me? The fact that all of these people really seem to be underestimating Will’s charisma and ability to explain, in detail, what was going through his mind at the time. These people are used to doing crisis-management with the grossest domestic abusers, rapists and sexual harassers and it shows. All Will has to do is sit down with Gayle King or OPRAH and talk in detail about Chris Rock’s history of denigrating Jada, and how Will felt like it was the last straw, and some/many people will forgive him. Especially if he shows genuine remorse… and I genuinely think he does feel remorseful.
As for his future in Hollywood… like, Mel Gibson still works. Casey Affleck still works. All of those abusive a–holes still work. That’s one of the things that’s irritated me the most about the reactions to Will Smith – the man has been a complete and total professional for decades, he has a completely blemish-free professional reputation, and he f–ked up one time and people couldn’t wait to throw him in the trash.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Instar.