After the Oscars slap, will people watch Will Smith in 'Emancipation'?

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“My opinion is that [Apple] just figured it's not going to change with the passage of time, as if it's the first Will Smith project to be released, and they may as well go for it,” says Kim Masters. Courtesy of Apple Original Film.

Apple Original Films decided to releaseEmancipation” in December, putting the movie into awards contention. However, there has been a lot of debate whether it will be nominated for an award because Will Smith is its lead actor, and Hollywood is still reeling from the infamous Chris Rock slap at the 2022 Oscars ceremony. Kim Masters and Matt Belloni discuss Apple’s decision, as well as the “Rust” civil lawsuit settlement. 

Apple “may as well go for it”

Kim: My opinion is that they just figured it's not going to change with the passage of time, as if it's the first Will Smith project to be released, and they may as well go for it. 

It costs money for it to just be sitting there, and there may be that curiosity factor, [so] I'm sure there'll be a lot of debate and publicity. I would think that Will Smith won't get nominated, but if the film is worthy, who knows?

Apple should have waited

Matt: I tend to have an opposite opinion on this. I think they should have waited a little bit longer to kind of have the stink around him dissipate a little bit more. I understand why they did. 

The talent can see “the fruits of their labor”

Matt: The better argument to me is that a lot of people worked on this film, all of whom had nothing to do with the slap, except one guy. So putting it out does allow the rest of the talent to see the fruits of their labor. 

But the slap was not just a little incident. This was a massive worldwide event, and I think that they probably should have waited longer. But I understand why they didn't.

Was this a financial decision?

Kim: I don't know if it was a financial decision more than anything else. 

Matt: Apple can probably take a little bit of a hit. And I think the fact that they have two movies next year that are Oscar contenders –  potentially in the Martin Scorsese film, and the Ridley Scott film –  I think that probably played a role. They were looking for a big awards contender for this year, and “Emancipation” was supposed to be it, so I see why they had an incentive there as well.

An image of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was fatally shot by Alec Baldwin on the set of his movie "Rust," is displayed at a vigil in her honor in Albuquerque, New Mexico on October 23, 2021. Photo by Kevin Mohatt/File Photo/REUTERS. 

The “Rust” lawsuit is settled

Kim: The family of Halyna Hutchins has settled with the producers, and Alec Baldwin has settled with the family. What's kind of strange about it is the husband has announced that he is going to be the executive producer of this film, and that is the [reason] that they're resuming production. 

An uneasy feeling

Kim: This is not some fancy Hollywood movie. This was a low-budget indie film made by producers who operate in that world and don't always operate with the objective [to] release a movie. These movies are often used for investors to avoid taxes. And, honestly, who knows what else? Some of these producers have been accused of really bad behavior in previous movies, I've written about that. 

Stars like Baldwin, do this for a few million bucks. Usually they don't stick around that long. He may have been more engaged in this one, but that's a thing that these producers do. Maybe the husband has said that this will be like a tribute to his wife's final work. But [it’s an] uneasy feeling, to put it mildly. 

“Does anyone want to see this movie?”

Matt: That just begs the question, “Does anyone want to see this movie?” There is an audience out there that likely would see this just because of the notoriety. I think that audience is probably larger than the audience for a movie like this otherwise, unfortunately. 

The comp we have here is the Brandon Lee movie, “The Crow,” where he was tragically killed during the production of that movie. That movie did not perform well. So maybe the culture is different now? I know there may be financial incentives, perhaps insurance or other things that don't kick in until it's completed or attempted to be completed. But this movie wasn't that expensive in the first place, and I'm imagining whatever this settlement was, was pretty significant, so the money issues may be out the window.

Kim: I will just note that the criminal investigation is still ongoing, but this is New Mexico where they do want to attract production, so we don't know whether they'll find anything, whether they want to find anything.




Kim Masters


Joshua Farnham