After the Oscar smack, what’s next for Will Smith: Hollywood’s big secret

Sunday night’s Academy Awards wasn’t the first time Will Smith’s fame has been dictated more by his personal life than his on-screen roles.

He recently documented his weight loss on a YouTube show Best Shape of My Life. He has appeared on his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s Facebook show Red Table Talk to discuss the brief breakup in their marriage. In the streaming series “Welcome to Earth” for Walt Disney, he proved his personal strength in nature adventures around the world co

And last November, he revealed deep secrets in Will, a memoir that has spent several months on best-seller lists.

“What you understand as ‘Will Smith,’ the alien-slaying MC, the larger-than-life movie star, is largely a construct — a carefully crafted and polished character — designed to protect myself,” he writes in the book.

Still, Mr. Smith, long one of Hollywood’s biggest and most bankable stars, rarely seemed really off the script. That is, until Sunday night, when the 53-year-old actor took to the stage during the Oscars and slapped comedian Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife. About an hour later, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in King Richard. You and you need to smile and you need to pretend that’s okay.

Ultimately, what Hollywood, the academy and viewers make of this night will impact the career of one of the world’s most likeable stars.

The 94th Academy Awards came to an abrupt end when actor Will Smith took the stage and punched comedian Chris Rock after he made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s short hair. The academy later said it had instituted disciplinary proceedings against Smith. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said Wednesday that it had initiated disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Smith for violating its standards of conduct, “including inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior, and endangering the integrity of the Academy.” Mr. Smith will receive at least 15 days’ notice of his violations and may offer a written response. Discipline could include suspension, expulsion or other sanctions, the academy said. The board will meet again on April 18th. The academy also clarified that Mr. Smith was asked to leave the ceremony and he declined, adding: “We also recognize that we could have handled the situation differently.”

Mr Smith apologized to Mr Rock, the Academy and viewers of the show in an Instagram post Monday night, calling his behavior “unacceptable and inexcusable”.

“I’m embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be,” he said.

How the night will affect Mr. Smith’s career remains unclear. Hollywood hasn’t talked about much else since, but few industrial powerhouses will speak publicly while awaiting news on the academy’s next steps. Since the ceremony, some stars have said they found the actor’s actions disturbing.

“Waiting for this sickening feeling to go away from what we’ve all seen,” Oscars co-host Amy Schumer said in an Instagram post Tuesday night. Her co-host Wanda Sykes said in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres that she was “still a little traumatized.”

Will Smith accepts his Oscar for Best Actor.


Photo:

Rich Fury/VF22/Getty Images

A representative for Mr Smith said the actor would not comment further. A representative for Mr. Rock did not respond to a request for comment.

According to a poll of 1,319 people conducted by research firm YouGov on Monday, three in five Americans think Mr. Smith’s behavior at the Oscars was wrong.

Mr. Smith is one of the few actors in contemporary Hollywood who can largely control his own destiny, greenlighting projects with only star power and often coming on board as a producer.

He has several high-profile projects in development, notably an Apple one inc

Film called “Emancipation,” which is set for release later this year and could put Mr. Smith back in the awards show in months.

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Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones star in the blockbuster Men in Black.


Photo:

Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection

According to a person familiar with the matter, Apple has made no changes to its plan for a late 2022 release.

The production of “Emancipation” reflects Mr. Smith’s unmistakable star power. When he agreed to star in the film in 2020, the project became one of the hottest titles in a Cannes Film Festival virtual market. Mr. Smith stars in the true story of a runaway slave who fled north and helped spark anti-slavery campaigns when photos of his whip-scarred back were published.

Bidders jumped at the chance to work on the film. According to a person familiar with the matter, Apple eventually came on board to produce the more than $100 million film.

Apple bought the project with plans to release it in theaters and on its AppleTV+ streaming service, a rollout similar to the 2021 release of “CODA,” which won best picture about an hour after Mr. Smith’s slap on Sunday became.

Mr. Smith began his career searching for his personal history as a Philadelphia-raised rapper and star of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” a comedy series recently remade as a drama. His film career reached stratospheric heights with the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day, in which he played a pilot repelling a global alien invasion.

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The film was the highest-grossing release of the year — grossing $553 million in the US after adjusting for inflation — and served as the basis for the studio-controlled “event movie,” complete with Super Bowl ads, Time magazine covers, and a tie -in toys. Soon, Mr. Smith was ruling the Fourth of July weekend when Men in Black followed in 1997.

Mr. Smith began producing some of his own projects in the early 2000s and in 2019 founded Westbrook, a media company focused on his entire family’s entertainment pursuits. In January, private equity-backed Candle Media paid $60 million for more than 10% of Westbrook Inc., continuing a string of Wall Street investments in celebrity-focused media companies.

The founding of Westbrook made it clear that Mr. Smith’s celebrity is increasingly a package deal: his wife, Ms. Pinkett Smith, and their two children, Jaden and Willow. Soon the four’s interpersonal relationships were fodder for programming.

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Will Smith on the Red Table Talk.


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Mr. Smith and his family have recently embraced the same type of denominational entertainment that has helped spawn celebrity families like the Kardashians. Mr. Smith’s children with Mrs. Pinkett Smith, as well as Trey, a child from a previous relationship, have all played themselves on television.

In July 2020, Mr Smith appeared on his wife’s talk show to discuss rumors of infidelity in the relationship. The incident concerned a breakup the couple went through about four years earlier.

“I was done with you,” said Mr. Smith. “But marriages do.”

During that split, Ms Pinkett Smith said she got into “a different kind of entanglement” with another man. The couple’s 13-minute conversation is heavy in therapy language, including details about Ms Pinkett Smith’s codependency and childhood trauma.

In his book, Mr. Smith refers to earlier plans for his family’s “world domination.” However, in “Best Shape of My Life” he expresses concern about the constant spotlight.

“It’s too much,” he says. “I just think it’s not people’s thing.”

write to Erich Schwartzel at erich.schwartzel@wsj.com and Ellen Gamerman at ellen.gamerman@wsj.com

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