Will Oscar Voters Even Consider Voting for Will Smith for ‘Emancipation’? – The Hollywood Reporter

Monday’s announcement by Apple, the distributor of the most recent best picture Oscar winner, CODA, that it will release Antoine Fuqua’s Emancipation, a film starring the most recent best actor Oscar winner, Will Smith, in 2022 rather than in 2023, sparked widespread speculation about how the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will react to the film and its central performance. Oscar voters will, of course, be judging the film less than one year after Smith’s infamous slap of Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards, which caused the Academy considerable embarrassment, led to Smith’s resignation from the orgniazation and prompted the organization to ban Smith from attending the ceremony for the next decade.

The Hollywood Reporter decided to go right to the voters to find out, surveying dozens from across the organization, including members of the actors branch, who will solely determine whether or not Smith should receive another best actor Oscar nomination, and members of the 16 other branches, who, if he does, would then join the members of the actors branch in determining whether or not he should receive another best actor Oscar. (All members get to weigh-in on both rounds of best picture voting.)

Responses spanned the spectrum. Most members asserted that they will not let their feelings about Smith keep them from watching Emancipation — which will launch exclusively in select theaters for one week on Dec. 2 before hitting Apple TV+ Dec. 9 — or from voting for others involved with it. As for voting for Smith? Well, let’s just say that most are not yet ready to forgive and forget. Here are their thoughts.

Member of actors branch: “I think more time should go by before Will Smith is considered for any award. I’m surprised Emancipation is being released, but I assume it’s for financial reasons, as well as hoping for award nominations. However wonderful he may be in the film, it will be hard to watch it and not continually think of the slap. It will be really hard to judge the performance on merit, and by extension the whole film.”

Member of actors branch: “I have no reaction to the Apple film getting released — frankly, I’m getting tired of the slave theme for now. But yes, I would consider voting for him if he is great in something.”

Member of actors branch: “The world can’t un-see the slap, and that is a heavy burden for Mr. Smith, his family and the Academy to carry. I believe the most important and valuable resolution is individual choice. Choices are being hijacked, poached and ripped away from us every day (voting; a woman’s choice, etc.). My hope is that we never get in line behind autocratic decisions that imprison creativity with edicts regarding who works and who doesn’t.”

Member of directors branch: “I think Will Smith should have been asked to take part in an Academy-mandated anger-management program before being readmitted or having his work considered for awards. Apple, of course, can do whatever they wish, but the Academy should not feel compelled to buy into the circus that will surround this project.”

Member of directors branch: “No chance I would vote for him. However, I support the release of Emancipation. We need some good films out there, which I am assuming and hope this is. This is likely coming from Smith — the decision to release it now, I mean — and it shows the same hubris and arrogance that had him go dancing after the Oscars.”

Member of directors branch: “Hundreds of people worked on that film, and they shouldn’t be penalized. As far as it being a contender, if it’s well-received, well done and deserving, it should be allowed to be given its shot and let the voters decide. Re: Will? I don’t know. He did something terrible. He apologized. We have to allow people to grow and learn and atone.”

Member of writers branch: “I’m only a lowly writer and producer, but if Smith’s film is creatively worthy and superior to the majority of other films eligible, I would nominate it if so inclined. I know how difficult it is to get any film made (good or bad), and I wouldn’t want to penalize everyone else who worked on the film because of Smith’s ill-conceived public humiliation at the prior Oscar ceremony. The rest of the cast and crew likely worked long and hard to get the film made.”

Lawrence David Foldes, member of producers branch: “I was surprised but not surprised learning of the release of Emancipation this year. Surprised because I believe that the industry should shun Smith, not embrace and boost his image. Not surprised because of Apple’s interest in recovering its investment and hoping to cash in on, and profit from, Smith’s involvement. However, bigger films with larger losses have been shelved for lesser things — and not demonstrating to the public that the industry has some morsel of integrity and ethics only further validates the public’s impression that our industry’s hunger for dollars above all else. Would I vote for Smith? NO FUCKING WAY. His shameful violent outburst and pathetic sniveling ‘acceptance’ diatribe witnessed by millions — and his blatant disrespect of the Academy — should preclude him from any consideration and reward from AMPAS members for life.”

Member of producers branch: “I am surprised they are releasing it this year. It’s an evergreen story. I say too soon for a Will Smith movie. If I watch it, I would not vote for him. In fairness to Antoine Fuqua, I would vote for him if I like the direction.”

Member of producers branch: “In this climate, I don’t think Will will get a day pass. If he happens to get nominated, he’s a sitting duck — no one will book him to promote anything.”

Member of executives branch: “I feel compassion for the producers and other creatives on the movie, who are essentially collateral damage of Smith’s actions, and I’m not sure that burying a movie, like Batgirl, is a victim-free solution. So if Apple thinks it best to let the marketplace of ideas sort this out, it’s really their call. As to voting for him, I really can’t imagine it. It’s an embarrassment to the Academy that he wasn’t thrown out of the building forthwith, and I’d be shocked if that moment won’t persist as an award disqualifier for a long time.”

Member of executives branch: “Would I vote for Will Smith? Not a chance.”

Member of executives branch: “Heavy sigh. No chance I would vote for him.”

Member of executives branch: “I think the film should be considered for awards, but the actor should not be because of his behavior at last year’s awards.”

Member of executives branch: “Why would [Apple] shelve an important movie about slavery?”

Member of documentary branch: “I was somewhat surprised [to hear about] Emancipation‘s release this year. It is a bit soon after the slap, but he had been making the film already. And I say somewhat surprised because after all, this is show business, thus, it’s not so surprising that the studio would want to capitalize on the moment. In terms of voting for the film and his performance, I think it depends. I have to see the film first. I’ve heard the film is good, which should be rewarded if deservedly so. But overall, I think all of this depends on whether there are some apologies and humble-pie eaten during the film’s release and potential awards campaign. He can’t pretend the slap never happened; thus, how will it be addressed? I think it depends on how he handles it all. If he’s too pat and unrepentant, that will turn people off. If he ignores it, that will be bad form. Everyone has a bad moment or a bad night in life, which can be forgiven. But what he did was terrible, frightening and so out of character — or what he presented to us as his character for so long. Thus, some type of public reckoning is in order if he wants the publicity and our votes. His apology upon accepting the Academy Award wasn’t enough, nor was his video released months later.”

Member of documentary branch: “Apple can release whatever they want and do whatever they think will help them succeed/increase subs. But no way would I ever vote for him this year. I might never vote for him again.”

Member of music branch: “Nominating Will Smith would be a slap in the face to the Academy.”

Member of film editors branch: “I don’t mind that Emancipation is being released. And yes, I would consider voting for Will Smith if he does great work.”

Member of sound branch: “Stopping the release of a film because its star did something offensive hurts the entire production and the hundreds of people who worked on it. Don’t watch if you are so offended. Don’t vote for Smith if you are so offended. That is everyone’s right. He behaved horribly. He has been punished by the Academy. Each individual member now has to weigh his or her own actions. The Academy Awards are to honor excellence in individual categories, not to punish people. If Will Smith’s performance is the best, he should win.”

Member of sound branch: “I hope the members of the Academy stick to their guns and ignore any award consideration for Mr. Smith. But I don’t think they should overlook all the other hard working and talented people associated with the film. Just punish Mr. Smith.”

Member of members-at-large branch: “I have no problem with Apple’s decision to release the movie. Academy voters should assess the quality of movie, not condemn a movie because of behavior patterns of an actor. But it seems unlikely that any Academy voter would vote for Will Smith to receive an acting award.”

Associate member: “I have to admit I was surprised that Apple did this. I understand this is a big film that they didn’t want to sit on, but this seems insensitive and premature. If the performance is amazing, it is possible I could vote for it, but I am inclined against doing so.”

Stu Zakim, member of marketing/public relations branch: “I’m not surprised Apple is releasing it, as I’m sure they spent a fortune; rather, it’s just a question of who would go see it. Will has his fan base, but forget about the Academy membership even thinking about acknowledging his performance, even it’s the best thing since Brando in On the Waterfront or The Godfather. His actions embarrassed all of us and tainted the Academy’s image worldwide.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “I thought the studio may not want to hold onto it into 2023, or that there was a lot of pressure from the filmmakers (or a contractual obligation) to release it this year. I dont know until I see a film if it is worthy of awards, and would hope we can evaluate all the artists and talent who contributed to the film, not just Will, in their given milieu. I suspect I might have a hard time voting for Will this year, even though I think he’s a good actor generally. If he blows me away, I might. But when there are so many options to choose from, I doubt he’d make top of list this year.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “I would not vote for him if he is nominated. I think this decision is gross and insulting. I have nothing against the guy, but he did what he did. No thanks.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “Conventional industry wisdom would have been to delay the release of the film until next year so things could be somewhat faded from voters’ minds, and the press. On the other hand, one could subscribe to the adage that in entertainment, like sports, if you’re down, the only thing to do is to get up and get back in the game. As a filmmaker, I admire and salute Apple for taking such a bold, brave confident position — any filmmaker would be thrilled to have a studio supporting them in such a way, especially considering the circumstances. Hollywood usually has a short memory, and is often quick to forgive if someone’s work is worthy of it. If Will is as good as Apple is forecasting by taking this 2022 Oscar eligibility stance, it could be exciting, and another history-making moment for them. Apple took a chance on CODA and won big last awards season. I think they’re brilliant, savvy marketers, so I trust that they are feeling quite assured about Emancipation, and this move. Since I have always maintained that it was the [Oscar telecast] producer’s fault that things got so out of hand at the Oscars that night, I would vote for Will. It’s about the work for me, and is for most Academy members. I certainly don’t condone what Will did, but know as a former TV producer, the whole affair could have been minimized if Will Packer had gone to commercial immediately, taken care of Chris, and escorted Will out of the theatre right away.  I do think that in order to overcome the Oscar fiasco, however, Will’s acting would have to be way over the top incredible, especially since he won’t be in attendance to accept an award next year. The Academy’s ban precludes him from attending the Oscar ceremonies for 10 years, and AMPAS voters are aware of this, which could affect their voting as well. There will be such a surfeit of scrutiny on Will, that it won’t be enough that he is good; he would have to surpass everyone else in the category by a lot.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “I’m fine with the film being released and think it says to the Academy, ‘One man’s actions should not negate the hard work of the hundreds of people who bring a film to life.’ As for my vote, I doubt I would vote for him regardless of the merit of his performance, but I won’t punish the film. If it warrants a vote in a category, I will consider it.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “What’s Apple thinking? Seems misguided, but they don’t have to worry about losing the farm, do they? The theatrical failure of Emancipation won’t send the company into oblivion. It’s not The Betsy. But when all is said and done, this film will likely do well on streaming, which maybe is the point of a theatrical run now. That, and Apple wants to be in the Will Smith business longterm, so what’s a few hundred million now? Would I vote for Will Smith? Unlikely. Even if the performance was the greatest thing to hit the big screen since Cinemascope, I wouldn’t want to reward him.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “Never would I vote for him.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “It’s an expensive movie and Apple has to release it regardless of the slap. I was outraged by the slap, but if he gives the best performance of the year I’d vote for him. We should judge the work, not the actor’s life and personality.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “If Apple feels they can properly book/position/market the film for a 2022 release, then they should go for it. As far as voting for Smith, I can’t say yes or no until after I see the film. But if after I do, pending of course a nomination, I feel his performance is Oscar-worthy, I might consider it. But I must admit that at the end of the day, the slap is going to be factored into my ultimate decision.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “Would I vote for Will Smith? Right after I vote for Trump.” [sarcastically]

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “I will never vote for him again after that. What he did was beyond appalling and irredeemable in my books. And I’m a pretty forgiving person.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “As a voter, I will always see as many of the contending films as possible and consider the work of all involved fairly. That is our responsibility as voters.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “Not a great idea to release the film so close to the big scandal, in my opinion, but on the other hand, bad PR is still PR, so people might be wanting to see a new Will Smith film. But no, I wouldn’t vote for him, and I think he has no chance after the slap.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “I think when so many people put their hearts and souls into a film that from what I have heard is a masterpiece, it deserves to come out. I hear it’s a great performance from Will Smith. But not only did he disrespect the ceremony, he disrespected and assaulted another human being in front of millions of viewers, including children. He also took the spotlight away from so many others. Will robbed that moment from them. He should be forgiven, but not yet. It sets the worst example, and we already have such poor examples on every side of politics to many in entertainment. Let’s start making people accountable.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “Too soon. Apple should have sat out this awards season. And no, I would not vote for Smith. If it is going to be Apple and the film team’s spin that it was a problem between two friends, then they are tone-deaf. (From Indiewire‘s trailer premiere story: ‘As for the Will Smith of it all, Fuqua told the outlet, ‘Will Smith is a great guy. I was with him for a couple of years making this movie. He is a wonderful person, an amazing partner and he did an amazing job on this movie. Chris Rock’s a good guy, I know Chris as well… and I just pray it works out for them as friends, and we can move forward.’)”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “I actually think it’s smart for Apple to release it this year. The truth is Apple does little to no promotion of their content. Usually people have no idea what they have coming out unless you are looking at the platform to see what is there. Given the timing, they may get more eyeballs and awareness than they would at any other time. Will Smith is certainly operating with a business-as-usual mentality. His tone-deaf version of an apology only added insult to injury, but he seems to be moving forward as though he didn’t assault another man on a worldwide stage. I am not in the actors branch, but if he was nominated? No, I would not vote for him, because I will not watch him in the movie.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “It’s a complicated question. Here’s what we know: Will Smith as a person did something atrocious. He assaulted another person. Totally unacceptable. We also know that our job as Academy voters is to evaluate the performance, not the person. So yes, I would evaluate the performance and vote accordingly. As an aside, the second issue here would have been for every craftsperson and artist who worked diligently on this film to never have their work seen. This is not only about Will Smith.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “I personally don’t want the other creatives of this film to suffer for Will’s sins. Will had his 15+ minutes last year and, honestly, he robbed Questlove of his moment, which was putrid in my book. So I will be supporting the film and the other creatives first and foremost.” 

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “Not surprised that Apple is releasing it. Academy members are more upset over the slap than the general public, who have moved on. It’s a good business decision for Apple. The film will rise or fall on its own merits. I will see the film, but will not vote for him if he is nominated. His behavior that evening clearly showed a lack of respect for the Oscar institution.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “If Will Smith was nominated and I thought his performance was one of the best, I would weigh voting for him against his having won last year. Generally, I don’t care to vote for the same person two years in a row. I do not believe Will Smith should be punished for his out-of-character behavior last year. The Oscar ceremony is not sacrosanct; it is not a place to punish someone’s personal behavior, though it has been used to do that. I strenuously object to the type of coarse and insulting comment called ‘humor’ being trotted out at the Oscars. I am surprised someone didn’t react against it before.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “I was not surprised by Apple’s decision. I think they knew they would do this all along. If he is nominated by his branch, I will NOT vote for him.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “I suspect the sting of that slap is going to continue to reverberate here. Even if his performance is breathtaking and leaves viewers in tears, what he did on that stage can’t just be dismissed or ignored, so it will be a significant factor. Obviously, I have not seen the movie. Assuming it is a masterpiece worthy of the race and deserving of appropriate acclaim in key categories across the board, the question also becomes not just about him, but whether the slap will be a larger factor down ballot for others.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “I don’t think the film should be punished because of the actions of its star. If his performance is truly extraordinary and Oscar-worthy, then yes, I would vote for him — though I won’t lie, I will come into this movie with preconceptions that might be hard to shake when it comes to his specific contribution, and he’s not someone I’d consciously want to endorse as the best in his lane. Knowing he’s a producer on it doesn’t help either. I hope he lets the work speak for itself and doesn’t show up front and center, since it might make it harder for many to root for the film if he becomes the main face of it. I’m looking forward to seeing it though.”

Member of marketing/public relations branch: “F—k him. So, no.”

Tyler Coates, Carolyn Giardina and Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.

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