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Sunday, January 29, 2023

Could ‘Emancipation’ be Will Smith’s road to redemption after Oscar slapgate

Private planes, million dollar sports cars and expensive designer clothes. For many, that’s the stuff dreams are made of.

For 54-year-old actor Will Smith, that’s all been at his disposal for over two decades now.

Given this reality, if you’d asked me a few months ago how much multi-millionaire celebrities like Smith really care for their “legacies”, I’d have said not much.

They have all that their hearts could ever desire, and more, so why would they give a hoot what a bunch of bloggers and Tweeps have to say about them?

But after watching Smith’s recent interview on “The Daily Show” with Trevor Noah, I’m not so sure anymore.

From the moment the interview started, Smith’s eyes were swollen with tears.

And throughout the interview, which ran for about 20 minutes, he kept dabbing tears from the corner of his eyes.

Will Smith chats to Trevor Noah on ‘The Daily Show’. Picture: YouTube

Smith tried to play down his emotions by joking that he wasn’t really crying and that this was all just a by-product of the 30-hour flight he’d just taken from Bhutan, where he was shooting for a Nat Geo show, to make it for the interview. I call bluff.

Smith is in shambles. The criticism in the media has been brutal, to say the least, since that fateful night in March when he stormed the Oscars stage and slapped comedian Chris Rock across the face after Rock made an ill-advised joke at the expense of his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith.

Smith’s legacy clearly matters to him. Eight months on from that Oscars fiasco, he’s evidently still distraught at how he tainted what was a spotless resume.

Prior to his PR disaster, you would have been hard-pressed to find a more likeable public figure than this. And now “The Pursuit of Happyness” star, who once appeared to walk on water, has now become the poster child of the entitled Hollywood elite.

But what more more does the evidently deeply remorseful Smith need to do to earn our forgiveness? When will he be afforded some grace and be given a second chance?

On prior evidence, one way to fast-track public redemption would be for Smith to start creating great art again.

That’s worked for several celebrities, including the likes of Chris Brown who, despite some hiccups along the way, has largely overcome his many domestic controversies to arrive at arguably the biggest song of his career this year with the chart-topping single, “Under The Influence”.

US actor Will Smith, right, slaps US actor Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 27, 2022. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP)

While society seems to be more unforgiving than ever before, we have seen countless second chance scripts unfold in front of our eyes.

Smith’s appearance on “The Daily Show” was part of his promotional efforts for the Apple TV+ original, “Emancipation”, which is a period drama starring Smith, Ben Foster and Mustafa Shakir.

Smith plays the role of Peter – a slave on a mission to secure his freedom and reunite with his family. The role is one Smith has described as having pushed him to the absolute limit.

“This was the hardest movie I’ve ever made,” he shared on an Instagram post in October.

“Blood, sweat and tears… Literally! Shoutout to Apple who doubled (and tripled) down on their commitment to deliver this epic story to the world.

“Here’s the first peek. And to everybody who has been supporting me these last few months, I appreciate y’all!”

While this appears to be the ideal setting for Smith to find his mojo again, things haven’t gotten off to a great start. That first peek drew instant criticism when it was released a few weeks ago.

The film, which sees the events which spark the abolition of slavery as people realized the unjust and cruelty of the American slavery system, has been criticised by many black people who have lamented that they’re tired of slavery films and Hollywood profiting off “black trauma”.

One Tweep said: “I have no doubt Will Smith killed his role, or that the cinematography is on point, and the movie will be powerful in some form. But this gotta be THE last dramatic slave movie.

“I don’t even know who they are making these films for anymore. White guilt? Black trauma?”

Another user took a similar position, and wrote: “I just hope Will Smith knows that if this ‘Emancipation’ movie flops, it’s not cuz we don’t support him, we’re just tired of the slave movies.”

But with the film only having hit cinemas on Friday, it’s still too early to know how things will pan out.

The stakes could not be any higher.

In his interview with Noah, Smith acknowledged and expressed regret that his actions may have the ripple effect of affecting public support for the film. I hope it doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, what Smith did was horrible, and he’s acknowledged as much.

But he’s apologised on numerous occasions and expressed deep regret for his actions.

He’s also made painstaking efforts for redemption, which include him extending an olive branch to Rock, his true victim. What more do we want?

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