In PR terms, actor Will Smith’s slap in the face of comedian Chris Rock at the Oscars wasn’t just bad, or really bad, it was “really, really bad.”
At least, according to veteran Hollywood publicist Michael Levine, who says Smith’s actions in the immediate future have “deeply damaged” his career.
“If you’re buying Will Smith stock right now, let’s make a deal. In the short term, that’s not good,” said Levine, whose client list includes pop star Michael Jackson, the former President Bill Clinton, musician Davie Bowie and comedian Dave Chappelle.
Smith, 53, has starred in blockbuster hits including the Bad Boys and Men in Black film franchises. His films, both live-action and animated, have grossed more than $9 billion worldwide, according to box office researcher Comscore.
But even as the new Oscar winner, his assault on Rock raises questions about whether his actions will have a meaningful impact on his prospects.
“It wasn’t a bullet that grazed his left little toe. I mean, it’s close to the heart,” Levine said. “Who the hell is going to raise their hand right now and say, ‘I know I want to do a Will Smith movie.'”
At the Oscars ceremony last Sunday, Smith took to the stage after Rock made a joke about the hair of Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of Will Smith. Pinkett Smith, whose head is shaved, has spoken publicly about her diagnosis of alopecia.
Smith slapped a stunned Rock across the face, returned to his seat, and yelled twice at Rock to “get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”
WATCH | Fallout from Will Smith’s Oscar slap:
Smith remained at the ceremony, nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Richard Williams, the father of tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams in the film King Richard. After winning, a tearful Smith apologized to the academy, but not to Rock. The next day, however, Smith issued a fuller apology on social media, and this time included Rock.
Meanwhile, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences met on Wednesday to initiate disciplinary proceedings against Smith for violating group standards of conduct.
On Friday, Smith announced in a statement that he had resigned from the academy and “will accept any other consequences the board deems appropriate” and that his actions were “shocking, painful and inexcusable.”
Unlikely to avoid repercussions
As for the future of his career, however, crisis publicist Howard Bragman said it was unlikely he could avoid repercussions.
“Will Smith, who had been stable Tom Hanks, had a Kanye moment at the Oscars that raised all kinds of questions about his judgment and his career and will have him dissected like a frog in a high school science project on the days and weeks following,” Bragman told Rolling Stone magazine.
In a podcast with The Ankler, a Hollywood industry newsletter, Bragman added that Smith’s career can now be defined as “before” this moment and “after” this moment.
“It could really change things for him,” he said.
Jeff Bock, senior media analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co., a Los Angeles-based company that analyzes box office trends, agreed Smith will need to take a “time out in Hollywood.”
Controversies between Gibson and Cruise
This downtime could be similar to the career ramifications that Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise suffered after their controversial actions.
Gibson was blacklisted for a period after his anti-Semitic comments to a police officer in 2006 and, a few years later, for racist comments he made on his then-girlfriend’s answering machine which were later returned public.
In 2006, Paramount Pictures ended its relationship with Cruise after what was seen as questionable behavior, including his infamous Oprah Winfrey couch jumping incident.
Cruise has also drawn negative attention for his condemnation of psychiatry and the criticism of actress Brooke Shields for taking medication to deal with her postpartum depression. He was later embroiled in a tense interview with then-Today Show host Matt Lauer on the matter.
“It will be at [Smith’s] PR team to rebuild the Will Smith brand. And there’s no doubt that will happen over the next few months and two years,” Bock said.
“I doubt any major studio or streamer would take the risk of signing Will Smith until these things happen, until this process is underway,” he said.
“Take the time it explodes”
Bock said he believed studios would avoid Smith, concerned about dealing with someone with potential anger issues, as well as wanting to avoid the onslaught of media focused specifically on the Oscar controversy.
“It’s going to take time to explode. There’s no doubt about it.”
Still, Bock said, eventually a producer or studio will take another chance with Smith.
“You don’t become a box office star and you just fade away,” he said.
However, Forbes magazine box office analyst Scott Mendelson said the incident could have done real damage to Smith’s value in non-franchise films by shattering “a carefully crafted 30-year-old image of a star. cinema that is accessible, harmless and always active”. charisma.”
As Mendelson notes in his article, How Will Smith’s Assault on Chris Rock Could Hurt His CareerSmith from around 2002 to 2008 was the biggest box office star on the planet.
However, that box office power of attraction has waned. Although Smith is still a bankable star, but especially in previously successful franchises (Men in Black 3, Bad Boys for life) or inherently commercial films like Aladdin and Suicide Squad. wrote Mendelson.
Other films he starred in did not do as well at the box office.
“Will ‘the slap’ cost Will Smith his prestige to the point that he won’t be much use in studio programmers and end-of-year awards movies anymore,” Mendelson asks. “Smith may struggle to justify his casting in anything other than foolproof IP and sequels to past glories.”
Regarding comparisons to Gibson and Cruise, Mendelson suggested that while the two continued to work, their careers were permanently stained. Gibson has mostly been relegated to video-on-demand movies. Cruise, meanwhile, is primarily bankable only for his Mission Impossible sequels, he wrote.
The new normal for Smith could be where he “can do movies, even big movies, but nothing like King Richard… never again,” Mendelson wrote.
But, Bock noted, Smith has now won his Oscar. “He has nothing more to prove.