As you may recall, Will Smith had a kind of bumpy night at this year’s Oscars. On one hand, he won his first Academy Award. On the other, he did so less than a half hour after slapping presenter Chris Rock on live television. Since then, his career has been in freefall. Projects were cancelled, he was suspended from attending the show for a decade, and his reputation has been perhaps permanently destroyed. (Also, there have been likely copycat attacks.) Before he slapped, though, Smith made a movie that could be considered Oscar bait. But when asked, a random group of Oscar voters were violently split about whether they’d fête him again.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke to dozens of members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, to see if they’d theoretically nominate Smith for Emancipation, in which he plays a runaway slave. Everyone — from actors to executives to publicists and so on — condemned Smith’s actions, but some were open-minded.
“I would consider voting for him if he is great in something,” one person — who, like most of them, remained anonymous — said. “If Will Smith’s performance is the best, he should win,” said another. One person put it bluntly: “Here we go again, art versus antics. If the work is great, then acknowledge it. Even if the artist is a moron.”
Others thought it was too soon, saying that “more time should go by before Will Smith is considered for any award.”
A number of people were adamant that Smith not be recognized by the Academy, with people saying things like, “Not a chance,” ““Heavy sigh. No chance I would vote for him” or “Nominating Will Smith would be a slap in the face to the Academy.” One person wrote, “NO F*CKING WAY,” adding that his “shameful violent outburst and pathetic sniveling ‘acceptance’ diatribe witnessed by millions — and his blatant disrespect of the Academy — should preclude him from any consideration and reward from AMPAS members for life.” (That person, producers. Branch member Lawrence David Foldes, did use his name.)
Among the most common response was that they wouldn’t vote for Smith while arguing that the film — which featured the hard work of lots of people who didn’t slap Chris Rock — deserves to be seen. “No chance I would vote for him. However, I support the release of Emancipation,” one person said. Said another, “Hundreds of people worked on that film, and they shouldn’t be penalized.”
One person had a game plan: “I hope the members of the Academy stick to their guns and ignore any award consideration for Mr. Smith. But I don’t think they should overlook all the other hard-working and talented people associated with the film. Just punish Mr. Smith.”
Emancipation, which had its first screening last weekend, will hit limited theaters on December 2. It will land on Apple TV+ a week later, on December 9.
You can read more responses over at THR.