The Will Smith Image Rehab Tour, Sponsored By Apple

The 94th Academy Awards - Vanity Fair Party - Los Angeles
Photo: Doug Peters/PA Images/Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
October 30, 2022

Mark your calendar! I’m told that Apple has set Nov. 30 for the big Westwood premiere of Will Smith’s Emancipation. That’s the night when the star, who hit an Oscars presenter in March and subsequently received a 10 year ban from the awards show, is expected to instead hit the red carpet—his carefully choreographed image rehab officially complete. Eight months from industry pariah to pretty much normal. Not bad!

A London premiere is scheduled to follow for Smith, then Emancipation will go to theaters for a week, then AppleTV+, and an awards campaign depending on reviews, which I’m betting will be strong. Given the current trajectory and everyone’s short memory, would you be surprised if the guy who thoroughly embarrassed Academy members—the Slap, refusing to leave, that unrepentant speech, and all the aftershow partying—ends up scoring a nomination in February from those same members? Who says Hollywood is full of hypocrites?    

If you’ve missed the recent media moments cooked up by Apple and Smith’s publicist, Meredith O’Sullivan Wasson, they’re heavy on key third-party advocacy—Hollywood P.R.-speak for unofficial endorsements from respected people or organizations—and zero interactions with actual media. After Smith’s awkward “hostage video” in July—Chris Rock’s words, not mine—Smith and director Antoine Fuqua debuted Emancipation on Oct. 1 in D.C. with the N.A.A.C.P. and the Congressional Black Caucus. Given the subject matter—Smith plays a slave who escapes and ends up fighting for the Union in the Civil War, and his performance is said to be intense and transformative—this venue made sense.