There is a Will Smith problem.
Apple expected Mr. Smith to win an Oscar for his performance in "Emancipation", a film set during the Civil War era. Smith strode onto the stage at the Academy Awards in March and slapped the comedian Chris Rock, who had made a joke about Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith has given up his membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and will not be allowed to attend any Academy-related events for the next decade.
Will the film, even if it succeeds artistically, overcome the baggage that now accompanies Mr. Smith?
It is clear that the situation is sensitive. According to three people involved with the film who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the company's planning, Apple is considering releasing "Emancipation" by the end of the year, which would make it eligible for awards consideration. Variety reported in May that the film's release would be delayed.
When asked how and when the film "Emancipation" would be released, Apple didn't say anything.
There is no simple answer. Should a film be delayed because the lead is too toxic? Is it possible that Apple releases the movie and watches the outcome? Audiences could be turned off by Mr. Smith. The Oscar campaign could upset members of the academy if they responded favorably to the film. A film marketing unit that has been criticized in Hollywood for skimpy ad spends and communication has parted ways with its head of video marketing.
Is it tarnishing Apple's reputation if they put the movie on hold? Stephen Galloway, the dean of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, asked if it tarnishes their reputation if they release it. It's a win-WIN situation for Hollywood. It is lose-lose.
The true story of a slave who escaped to the North and joined the Union army is the basis of the movie "Emancipation". The movie is about a man known as "Whipped Peter" who was photographed with a scarred back and became a cry for abolition during the Civil War. In March, it finished filming for the Oscar show.
Plans for the film's release were thrown into doubt when Mr. Smith slapped Mr. Rock. Mr. Smith won the best actor award for his work in King Richard.
The Oscar chances for Mr. Smith's work have plummeted because of the reaction to the slap.
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Some in the film industry think that releasing "Emancipation" along with other Oscar nominees will anger academy voters who were embarrassed by Mr. Smith.
The new chief executive of the film academy said on a recent call with reporters that next year's show won't dwell on the slap, even in joke form. He wants the Oscars to celebrate cinema. Right now, our focus is that.
It would be difficult with the presence ofemancipation.
Mr. Gilula said that regardless of the quality of the movie, all of the reviewers, feature writers, and awards watchers are going to be looking at it and talking about the slap. There is a high risk that the film won't be judged on its merits. It makes it very difficult to understand.
The film might be too good to keep quiet. Three people with knowledge of the event who were not permitted to discuss it publicly said that Apple set up a general audience test screening of "Emancipation" in Chicago earlier this year. One of the people called Mr. Smith's performance "volcanic." Audience members said they weren't turned off by Mr. Smith's behavior.
Mr. Smith was mostly out of the public eye after the Oscars. He apologized to Mr. Rock and his family in a video he posted on his YouTube channel.
Since it was posted on July 29, the public mea culpa has been viewed more than 3.8 million times. It is not clear if it has improved the public's perception of him. Mr. Smith's Q score plummeted after the Oscars. According to data provided to Variety, Mr. Smith was one of the top five celebrities in the country before he was hit. Henry Schafer, executive vice president of the Q Scores Company, called it aprecipitous decline when his appeal was measured again in July.
Movies have been delayed by Apple before. The company pushed back the release of its first feature film, "The Banker," after the daughter of one of the men whose life served as a basis of the film raised allegations of sexual abuse. The film was released in March 2020 after Apple reviewed the information.
Many in Hollywood are drawn to Apple for its willingness to spend a lot of money on projects. The company has been criticized for not spending enough to market the same projects. Two people who have worked with the company, and who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss dealings with Apple, said it usually created just one trailer for a film, a frustrating approach for those who are used to producing multiple trailers aimed at different audiences. Apple likes to use its Apple TV+ app and in-store marketing to get in front of people.
Even if Apple releases "Emancipation" this year, it won't feature the film in its retail outlets like it did for "CODA." The controversy surrounding Mr. Smith overshadowed that accomplishment.