Why Is Will Smith the Only Man Still Apologizing?

Smith, ever the peacemaker, says he understands if fans aren’t ready to see his new film Emancipation after he slapped Chris Rock.

Why Is Will Smith the Only Man Still Apologizing?
Photo:Emma McIntyre (Getty Images)

Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone, and I’ve already forgotten everything that happened before I slipped into a food coma. This includes the infamous 2022 Oscars incident in which Will Smith slapped the daylights out of Chris Rock for making a deeply distasteful joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. The altercation was dubbed the “slap heard around the world.”

After many an apology from Smith and several accountability measures—including Smith’s resignation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—it seems like most of us have let bygones be bygones. But Smith says he understands if fans still might not be ready to see him on the big screen in Antoine Fuqua’s upcoming film Emancipation, a movie based on the true story of the runaway slave known as “Whipping Peter” (played by Smith).

“I completely understand—if someone is not ready, I would absolutely respect that and allow them their space to not be ready,” Smith said in a video interview with journalist Kevin McCarthy.

Emancipation is Smith’s first major project post-slap, and beyond his own notoriety, Smith’s biggest concern is how his previous actions might jeopardize the success of the movie, undermining the work that’s been put into it:

My deepest concern is my team—Antoine has done what I think is the greatest work of his entire career. The people on this team have done some of the best work of their entire careers, and my deepest hope is that my actions don’t penalize my team. At this point, that’s what I’m working for.

The idea of Smith’s comeback being “too soon” after the slap has put somewhat of a haze over the anticipation for Emancipation but Fuqua, who directed the movie, doesn’t seem too concerned about the alleged fallout. “The film to me is bigger than that moment. Four hundred years of slavery is bigger than one moment,” he said in an interview with Vanity Fair earlier this month. “My hope is that people will see it that way and watch the movie and be swept away with the great performance by Will and all the real hard work that the whole crew did.”

Smith echoed this sentiment to McCarthy, saying: “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.”

While Smith’s apologies seem sincere, it feels a bit peculiar that he’s had to do eternal penance for one bad judgment call—an open-handed slap on stage—while men who’ve done far worse are being defended and showered with forgiveness after showing little to no remorse. Just last week, multiple famous women came to Chris Brown’s defense, unprompted, calling on everyone to forgive and forget the domestic abuse he inflicted upon Rihanna in 2009—after Brown said years ago that he was done apologizing. “I consider myself a grown-ass man,” he said. “And at the end of the day, if I walk around apologizing to everybody, I’m gonna look like a damn fool.”

Meanwhile, men like Woody Allen continue to make movies despite supposedly being canceled. I’ve never heard Allen say he understands if people aren’t ready to see his films after he allegedly raped and molested underage girls. Roman Polanski, accused of raping a 13-year-old girl, is also charging right ahead with his film career and pretending like nothing happened. But we’re going to witness this continued penance for a slap, it seems, long after everyone has stopped giving a shit.

To be clear, I condemn violence in all forms. But I also accepted Smith’s apology a while back and wish I could swap these new ones out for apologies from some other notable famous men. And if it counts for anything, I’ll probably go see Emancipation.

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