Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Will Smith: The Hollywood Saint with the Now Tarnished Halo?

Will Smith (smiling) - Getty
Will Smith – Getty

*Is Will Smith the Hollywood saint with a tarnished Halo? Only time will tell. The word saint is used informally, of course, meaning kind, patient and virtuous. In my view, that speaks to Will Smith’s character over the years. He’s enjoyed an impeccable Hollywood reputation. A happy, nice guy with supportive film and music fans. You can tell by past music and film revenues. With his Overbrook Entertainment entity, he’s also a very successful Hollywood executive who has established fruitful business relationships with the Hollywood elite.

Up to this point, there’s nothing salacious in Smith’s Hollywood story that would derail or tarnish his career and reputation, except maybe recent public revelations about his marriage and that’s a stretch. Public sentiment shifted dramatically the night of March 29, 2022, at the Academy Awards show in Hollywood and not in Smith’s favor. The world experienced a completely new and surprising side of Will Smith, a side never aligned with his happy public persona, and in the short time since, the reckoning has begun. Smith resigned from The Academy of Arts and Sciences late Friday night. Prompted by his publicist and attorneys, reports say. Perhaps this is the beginning of the healing process that his wife Jada Pinkett Smith wants.

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Fans and the Hollywood elite are still grappling with what they witnessed. “Traumatic” is how many are describing that night, from comedian Amy Schumer to Will Smith fans across the globe. That trauma, I suspect, is not just about the act but the actor. Fans were introduced to someone new. This was not their Will Smith. Part of the trauma, I think, is mourning the loss of the Will Smith that fans thought they knew. People must process and then reconcile the Will Smith they had come to know, love and support through his movies and music, with the person who stormed the Oscar stage and slapped Chris Rock. Surreal, right? Smith fans may be mourning the goodness that always seems to exude from Smith. Saint-like behavior. Remember, his fans were on this Oscar ride with him.

Would he finally get the golden statute? This was his third nomination. Fans were likely at home eating and drinking and waiting for his category to be announced. That special moment was taken away from those fans and supporters when this new Will Smith arrested us all with his actions on stage that night.

Will Smith cursing at Chris Rock at 2022 Oscars (Lupita Nyong'o looks on) - screenshot
Will Smith cursing at Chris Rock at 2022 Oscars (Lupita Nyong’o looks on) – screenshot

This was the fans’ moment too, lost, tainted by a betrayal of sorts.

The outrage that ensued online after the fact evoked a spectrum of emotional responses from everyday people to celebrities alike.

Take for example these fan comments from Heavy.com:  “Uncalled for. Unfollowing,” wrote one fan. “Come on, as a comedian yourself you know Chris was joking at this point in your career you can’t take a joke that was completely out of hand,” wrote another.

ASAP Rocky gave his take saying, “I think it’s unfortunate that, like, he emasculated another black man in front of all them people like that.”

Smith and Rock fan Mary J. wrote, “This was traumatizing for the world to see, and I hate that this happened between two very successful black men… I pray they get the healing they need.”

Another fan wrote, “Ummm no, not happy for Will. He acted like [the] thug Jada wants him to be… I feel sorry for him tho.”

The Associated Press notes that Wanda Sykes has made her feelings known about the situation in a pre-taped interview with Ellen DeGeneres set to air on April 7: “I felt so awful for my friend Chris. It was sickening. I physically felt Ill, and I am still a little traumatized by it.”

Sykes also makes clear that no one apologized to the hosts of the show after the incident and feels that she and fellow co-hosts Amy Schumer and Regina Hall deserve an apology.

Will Smith wins Best Actor Oscar - screenshot
Will Smith wins Best Actor Oscar – screenshot

Just pick any article on the subject and read the comments section, people were triggered by this. The FCC is getting complaints too, more than 60 so far. Some of the complaints are calling for Smith’s arrest and suggest that he be banned from future Oscar award shows. There’s even a complaint from a parent whose child cannot sleep because of what he witnessed. Whatever the case, people want accountability from Will Smith (and the ABC network).

The reactions are very real and personal. I suspect forgiveness will be too – at least for those willing to forgive. The question now becomes has Smith built up enough goodwill with fans and Hollywood to see his way through this? That remains to be seen. Should Smith get a chance at redemption? My answer to that question is YES, Will Smith should get a chance at redemption. I suspect Chris Rock will play a role in that process even if a passive one. Rock’s actions and reactions can help this healing process for Will Smith, his fans, and himself. In fact, he’s already helped by refusing to have Smith arrested, and removed from the ceremony after the assault, according to Academy Award show producer, Will Packer. It also speaks volumes that Rock said no to a fan’s derogatory remarks about Smith at his first show in Boston – taking a Michelle Obama approach – the high road.

Will - Jada - Chris / Getty
Will – Jada – Chris / Getty

Redemption will show its face for Will Smith eventually. The evidence will be in box office ticket sales, Hollywood projects and reports of those willing to work with him and those who choose not to work with him. One of the biggest pieces in the redemption puzzle is where Jada Pinkett Smith fits in. It is believed that it was her reaction to Rock’s joke that prompted her husband to respond the way he did. A reaction that may have started a domino effect that could leave Will Smith’s career in jeopardy. It is evident that she was displeased, which is her right. But should she have at least tried to prevent this by grabbing her husband and talking him down? There’s a video clip circulating that shows her laughing after the fact. Could this hurt the Smiths’ going forward? The public jury is still out on that piece of this puzzle. There are so many subplots to this story.

Let’s be clear. Will had a right to defend his wife. A black man should not ridicule a black woman’s hairstyle. Will Smith disappointed the Black community.  When fans watched Smith’s open hand lay bare across Chris Rock’s face in that violent rebuke of Rock’s G. I. Jane joke, he simultaneously slapped fans into an alternate reality making them question who it was that they had supported up to this point. The happy, smiley-faced Smith with the brightly glowing halo is no doubt dimmed for the moment. The world will now determine how brightly that halo shines in the future. We all have a say here – to be dictated, in part, by the actions of Will Smith, his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith and Chris Rock.

Tibberly G. Ri’chard
Tibberly G. Ri’chard

Tibberly G. Ri’chard is a Louisiana-based writer. Contact her via Tibbgr@aol.com.

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