Will Smith says he can ‘absolutely respect’ those not ‘ready’ to move on from Oscar slap and see new film

Actor Will Smith says he ‘understands’ if people aren’t ready to see him in his new film after his infamous altercation at the Oscars with Chris Rock earlier this year.

Smith was asked by Fox 5 DC reporter Kevin McCarthy what he would say to those who feel they are “not ready” to watch him on the big screen after the slap that echoed around the world. McCarthy said he was in the newsroom when the trailer for Smith’s new movie “Emancipation” debuted and he aired it immediately. The news anchor said he had colleagues say to him that they couldn’t wait to see the film, but others, with the events of this year’s Academy Awards still on their minds, had their trepidations.

“I completely understand that, if someone is not ready, I would absolutely respect that and allow them their space to not be ready,” Smith told McCarthy. “My deepest concern is my team – [director Antoine Fuqua] has done what I think is the greatest work of his entire career.”

“Emancipation” is Smith’s first film since 2021’s “King Richard,” the film that provided Smith’s contrasting high to his remarkably low outburst on Oscars night. The “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” actor won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Richard Williams, Serena and Venus Williams’ father, at the 94th Academy Awards.

Smith accepted the award after earlier in the ceremony, he had slapped comedian Chris Rock over a couple of light-hearted jokes about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Smith delivered his acceptance speech and was met with a standing ovation from a repulsively adoring audience.

Smith’s new film is inspired by the true story of an escaped slave, Gordon – named Peter in the film, who escapes his plantation in Louisiana, and journeys through the marshes and swamps of the basin until he finds the Union Army. Gordon, who was whipped brutally by the overseer of the plantation, would be photographed, and images of his scourged back were published worldwide. These horrific, graphic images provided proof of the unthinkable cruelty of American slavery and would galvanize support for the abolitionist movement.

Smith said, with this film, that the team around him had produced some of their best work ever and that his “deepest hope is that my actions don’t penalize my team.”

“I’m hoping that the material – the power of the film, the timeliness of the story – I’m hoping that the good that can be done would open people’s hearts at a minimum to see and recognize and support the incredible artists in and around this film,” Smith said.

Director Antoine Fuqua has had a prolific career in Hollywood and is known for his work with Denzel Washington on 2001’s “Training Day” and the 2016 iteration of “The Magnificent Seven.” Originally, production for his latest feature-length for Apple TV was slated to take place in Georgia, but Fuqua and Smith withdrew production from the state in protest of its voting reform laws.

“At this moment the nation is grappling with its history and trying to remove traces of institutional racism in order to achieve real racial justice,” said Smith and Fuqua in a joint statement at the time. “We cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that passes regressive electoral laws designed to restrict voter access. The new electoral laws in Georgia are reminiscent of electoral barriers that were passed at the end of the reconstruction to prevent many Americans from voting. Unfortunately, we feel compelled to move our film production work from Georgia to another state.”

Ultimately, the film was shot in Louisiana and is set to make its theater debut on December 2nd.

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