Eleven days after the now-infamous Oscars slap of comedian Chris Rock, questions are now being raised as to whether Will Smith’s reputation and his Smith family brand have become irreparably damaged.
Who wants to have their streaming service, movie house or project in production associated with the A-list Hollywood actor, writer and producer?
According to entertainment industry sources, film projects starring the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air have apparently been stalled and release dates put on hold for films in post-production.
On March 28, as Rock was about to announce the winner of the best documentary – which went to Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson for Summer of Soul – he made a humourless joke that he was looking forward to seeing Jada Pinkett Smith in GI Jane 2 due to her haircut.
Back in 2018, Pinkett Smith revealed she suffered from the hair loss condition known as alopecia.
Smith over-reacted, stormed on stage, slapped Rock across the left cheek, and returned to his seat, twice yelling out: “Keep my wife’s name out of your f–king mouth.”
About 45 minutes later, Smith was awarded a best actor Oscar for playing Serena and Venus Williams’ father Richard in King Richard.
The real fallout began after the Academy issued a statement about disciplinary proceedings, and Smith resigned his membership.
On April 2, streaming giant Netflix quietly moved production of the film Fast and Loose, starring Will Smith (who plays a broke CIA agent), to the backburner.
According to sources at The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix “was understandably wary of moving forward”.
“It is unclear whether it will try to make the project with another star and director,” THR wrote.
Smith had also finished working on Apple studio’s slave escape drama Emancipation, which is now in post-production.
THR reported the streamer had planned a 2022 debut but “has not dated its release”.
Sony’s Bad Boys 4 had been in active development, with THR reporting Smith received 40 pages of the script before the Oscars.
“[It] will now pause,” a source said, and “a few other projects in pre-production are likely to do the same”.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Smith
American public relations expert and crisis commentator Mike Paul told The New York Times Smith’s brand “is currently damaged goods worldwide”, but not everyone agrees.
Veteran Australian celebrity promotor and PR veteran Max Markson, who has represented some of the biggest names in the business, tells The New Daily Smith “will come back bigger and better from his Oscar meltdown”.
“The movies that are on hold will all get the green light,” Markson said.
“The movies that are not being released yet will get released after a few months and within 12 months all people will remember is that he won the best actor Oscar in 2022.
“His star will shine again, even though it seems slightly tarnished at the moment.”
Markson referenced the comeback of Avengers icon, Iron Man Robert Downey Jr, who was once a drug addict and convict, and a “Hollywood tragedy” scrubbing pizza pans for eight cents an hour in prison.
The Guardian wrote about his redemption in 2008: “Here was a man who fell with the acceleration of Satan: Cocaine, jail, driven to the brink.
“When he told a judge, ‘It’s like I’ve got a shotgun in my mouth, my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of gun metal’, he seemed trapped in a sordid Hollywood cliché about a life and career gone off the rails.
“Yet, against all odds, he has carved out one of its most compelling narratives about the possibility of redemption,” it wrote.
Adds Markson: “[He] had his problems in the past, yet he is now one of the biggest grossing, most popular movie stars in the world.
“This will be the same result for Will Smith as he shines again in Hollywood and across the planet.”
A quick look at Smith’s profile on industry website IMDbPro reveals a vast catalogue of work – a total of 49 projects – he’s involved in.
Whether it’s as an executive producer pitching for TV movie Food and Familia, producing comedies and action thrillers with a “script” status, to “development unknown” for several titles, there is no doubt Smith will keep busy over the next 12 months.
According to Washington University in St Louis Olin business school Professor Tim Solberg, the biggest risk may lie within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences itself if it doesn’t act (April 18 is the reported date Smith’s punishment will be handed down), not so much Smith’s brand, or Rock’s (as many critics were outraged about the ridicule he heaped on Pinkett Smith).
“While financially the stars have their brand and their following, unless a studio boycotts or the public cancels Will Smith – a major box office star making money for the company – due to the public show of violence, he will maintain his financial draw even if his brand is tarnished,” Professor Solberg said.
His colleague at the Olin school, Professor Glenn MacDonald agrees:
“In entertainment, they often say there is no such thing as bad publicity. Obviously, getting attention for doing something people would generally find disgusting is a counterexample,” said MacDonald, who teaches a course in the economics of entertainment at Olin.
“But a wise-guy comedian getting hit on TV by a very physical guy for making a bad comment about the latter’s wife is really just extra attention for a couple of guys in the latter stages of their careers.”
Ironically, Professor Solberg said Smith and Rock may suffer no ill effect in their earnings.
“The two stars have their followings and the audience is segmented … they will probably not have a drop in earnings as a result.
“In that sense, their brand is not harmed financially.”