Will Smith went from beloved film favorite to Hollywood villain when he slapped Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars last weekend. Has he done permanent damage to his image and career, and what might happen next?
As the Oscars ended on Sunday night, Will Smith may have hoped he had nipped the fallout from his slap in the bud.
His tearful best actor acceptance speech, in which he apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees and tried to frame himself as a “defender of his family”, received a standing ovation.
He later made a show of posing and dancing with his best actor statuette at the after-show party in classic Big Willie style, as if nothing had happened. Or as if he was relieved to have ridden out the storm.
But when he woke the next morning, the storm hadn’t passed. It only intensified as people took stock of his violent behavior in the cold light of day.
“It is kind of crazy to think that this one incident could wipe away so many decades of goodwill,”. “But it was so public, it was so outside of the box. One agent we talked to called it a ‘stunning act of narcissism’. The movie star brand for Will Smith is badly tarnished.”
Her website has published an article asking film industry insiders if Smith’s career is “mortally wounded”.
“The conclusion is, yeah,” Waxman says. “‘Mortally wounded’ is a quote, that’s what one of the agents we talked to called it, and said he’s kind of done as an A-list movie star.
“The idea that people still relate to Will Smith and feel like he’s somebody they want to look up to, and they want to admire, and pretend that – hey, that could be me up there on the screen – there’s a real sense that that relatability has been taken away with this gesture.”
Kim Masters, the editor at large Reporter, agrees Smith is known for hits like Men In Black, and Independence Day. “He’s built a persona over many, many years,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
“People were absolutely shocked by his comportment and subsequently a rather peculiar acceptance speech and then dancing as if he had not a care in the world at the Vanity Fair party. So this is a big change of what people know and expect from Will Smith.”
The 53-year-old star had no history of causing trouble. And was known to be generous with fellow cast members, she added. “But nonetheless, many people have said they can’t look at him the same again.”
What can we expect from him in the coming months?
There may be charity work, a public announcement of therapy, or anger management. The obligatory confessional interview – perhaps even on his family’s Facebook chat show Red Table Talk.
That is where he and wife Jada Pinkett Smith came clean about their relationship issues in 2020. Which is the closest he has come to scandal in the past.
It is also where Pinkett Smith opened up about her alopecia – the hair loss condition. That was at the nub of her husband’s Oscars outburst – and where. Kevin Hart talked about quitting as host of the 2019 Oscars.
Smith also has a number of films in the pipeline that have now been thrown into uncertainty. They include Bad Boys 4, Bright 2 and Apple’s Emancipation, in which he plays a runaway slave.
“A big indicator of how tarnished Will Smith’s reputation is [will come] when we see what Apple decides to do with this movie,” Waxman says.
“Everybody thought it would come out the second half of the year and be in contention for awards. For next year, and we don’t know what Apple’s going to do.
“If they decide to push it [back], I think that’ll give you some strong sense of, they don’t want to be out in the marketplace with Will Smith this year.”