Six Months After ‘The Slap,’ Will Smith Remains Uncanceled

We got word from Deadline about two concurrent developments related to Will Smith. First, it’s possible (but not remotely guaranteed) that Apple+ will release his $120 million runaway slave action-drama Emancipation as early as this December. Meanwhile, they are reporting that Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (an Oscar-winning documentary short filmmaker with recent directorial credits on Ms. Marvel) is setting up her feature directorial debut with Paramount
Pictures. The film, Brilliance, is about a world where 1% of the world’s children are born with powerful gifts and how society acclimates. It is being developed as a star vehicle for Smith, who is producing, although he has yet to commit to star. So, if either of these things happens, I think we can end the whole “Will Smith has been canceled!” narrative.

Emancipation, directed by Antoine Fuqua (Tears of the Sun, Shooter, White House Down, The Equalizer, etc.), was produced and positioned as a big-deal Oscar contender for 2022. I’ve heard rumblings that Smith was good enough to possibly be the first actor since Tom Hanks to win two back-to-back Best Actor Oscars. However, Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on global television during this year’s Academy Awards just 30 minutes before he (justifiably) won his first Oscar for King Richard. He received a ten-year ban from the Academy Awards telecast after resigning from the Academy. Since then, everyone has been rubbing their hands about long-term consequences while comparing his fate to that of Ezra Miller, who again began getting into trouble with the law in late March/early April of this year.

The two circumstances couldn’t be less identical. Will Smith is one of the biggest movie stars in the world. He was *the* biggest from around 2002 (Men in Black II) to 2008 (Hancock). He opened a variety of franchise films (Bad Boys II), one-and-done biggies (I, Robot), rom-coms (Hancock), animated movies (Shark Tale) and economic mobility dramas (The Pursuit of Happyness) to the best-case-scenario box office. He undid, perhaps temporarily, a 30-year image of being the nicest, most easygoing, gee-whiz, wholesome (and kid-friendly) movie star. This was probably necessary in a way it wasn’t for, say, Russell Crowe or Christian Bale, but I digress. His public assault and battery of another famous Black man in the middle of the Oscar telecast probably deserved harsh punishment from the Academy (if nobody else).

Ezra Miller played Barry Allen in Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad and Justice League. They were cast in late 2014, back when they were breaking out in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and We Need to Talk About Kevin. Since then, Miller has only a few movies (Trainwreck) and television shows (The Stand) on their resume. To the extent they are known at all, they are mostly famous for being the actor playing The Flash. To the extent Warner Bros. Discovery
would prefer Miller not publicly combust, it’s about protecting their already-completed $200 million sci-fi superhero flick. Miller has been written out of Fantastic Beasts, and there’s next to zero chance that they will reprise as The Flash or do much of anything for Warner Bros. soon.

The only reason Miller is even in the news is the SEO appeal of superhero comic book movies and the clickbait ‘DC in disarray’ narrative. Anyway, back to Will Smith. The notion that Smith had been publicly shamed and blacklisted by Hollywood was mostly bandied about by the media and social media posts. However, what happened? First, ‘the slap’ was less than six months ago. Smith, having embarrassed himself and sullied his carefully crafted image on what should have been one of the most significant moments of his life, seemingly took a few months to deal with personal issues and figure out what to do next. That is only absurd in a world that demands that every news story begin and end in 48 hours.

His David Leitch-directed Netflix
actioner Fast and Loose was canceled before the Oscars, partially because Leitch opted to direct The Fall Guy for Universal. Sony swears Bad Boys 4 is still in development, and Bad Boys for Life opened 17 years after Bad Boys II. Emancipation will still likely get a theatrical roll-out and awards-friendly push, even if Smith himself might take a backseat (in terms of pursuing awards) for the sake of the other participants. Brilliance looks to be a Paramount-distributed star vehicle, a possible franchise-starter based on Marcus Sakey’s novel, from a promising ‘not a white guy’ director. Assuming one or both items come about as discussed, that sounds like business as usual for Will Smith. Meanwhile, barring a media-friendly rehab narrative, Miller may be finished after The Flash.

Will Smith may not be as conventionally bankable as before. He has been commercially coasting over the last decade on franchise flicks like Bad Boys for Life, Aladdin and Suicide Squad. Most of his non-franchise films (After Earth, Concussion, Collateral Beauty, The Gemini Man, etc.) commercially faltered. If he has lost the prestige that somewhat justifies the next King Richard, or if he has angered studio executives (“The Slap” wrecked what should have been a night of pure victory for Warner Bros. thanks to King Richard and six technical awards for Dune), that’s a problem. That Smith would slap Chris Rock at the Oscars and essentially take a few months off is Occom’s Razor. The difference between Smith and Miller is that one still has a future in Hollywood.

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