The dust from Will Smith’s Oscar slap still hasn’t cleared. As The New York Times reports, the highly publicized altercation between the “King Richard” Best Actor winner and comedian Chris Rock has ignited an internal debate at Apple as executives reconsider delaying their release of Smith’s next awards season hopeful: his upcoming Civil War drama, “Emancipation,” for which the studio paid a staggering $ 120 million to acquire in 2020.
Although Apple pushed the film’s release to 2023 in May following Smith’s public fallout, three people involved with the film speaking anonymously with The Times said that Apple staffers have discussed releasing “Emancipation” by the end of this year, within the window of eligibility for awards consideration. But such a move naturally raises the question: What would that release and subsequent awards campaign even look like?
In the aftermath of the slap, Smith has rescinded his membership to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, and he’s been banned from attending all Academy-related events – including the Oscars – for the next 10 years.
Of course, Smith isn’t the only talent attached to the film that could be worthy of being recognized for their work – and he would, in fact, still be eligible for an acting nomination at the awards. “Emancipation” comes from “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua and screener William N. Collage. It charts the true story escape of a runaway slave named Peter (Smith) after being nearly whipped to death. A harrowing journey North through the swamps of Louisiana eventually leads to him joining the Union Army.
But still, that doesn’t mean a campaign wouldn’t inevitably center on Smith’s comeback in the aftermath of slapping Rock. As former co-chief executive of Fox Searchlight Stephen Gilula told The Times: “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. 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. “
Stephen Galloway, the dean of Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts and the former executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter, said it’s a lose-lose situation for Apple.
“If they shelve the movie, does that tarnish Apple’s reputation? If they release it, does it tarnish their reputation? ” he posed. “Hollywood likes a win-win situation. This one is lose-lose. “
The Times also reports, however, that anonymous Apple staffers confirmed that a test screening of “Emancipation” out of Chicago earlier this year garnered overwhelmingly positive feedback, “specifically for Mr. Smith’s performance,” the Times wrote, “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 of him. “
Fresh off becoming the first streamer to win the Academy Award for Best Picture with “CODA,” all eyes are on Apple and “Emancipation” to see how the studio maneuvers the upcoming awards season.