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‘I Could Have Potentially Penalized My Team’: Will Smith Says He Is Discomforted to Know The Oscars Slap May Penalize Public Reception and Success of His New Movie, ‘Emancipation’

Will Smith knows not everyone is ready for his comeback as the release of his latest project, “Emancipation,” draws near.

The drama sees Smith portray “Whipped Peter,” an escaped slave, as he traverses the Louisiana swamp in search of his family. The Antoine Fuqua-directed film will stream on Apple TV+ beginning Dec. 9.

(L-R): Will Smith and Antoine Fuqua Photo: @willsmith, @iamlelarochon/Instagram

As Smith has come to find, for some individuals, it is still too soon to support any project tied to him after he slapped Chris Rock on stage at the 2022 Academy Awards. Moments after the incident was broadcast to the world, the actor returned to the stage to accept his first Academy Award for his portrayal of Venus and Serena Williams’ father in “King Richard.”

For his actions, Smith faced public scrutiny and found himself the target of the cancel culture movement. Professionally, he resigned from the Academy and was banned from Academy events for the next decade. Now months after the media frenzy surrounding his outburst, Smith has opened up about the possible collatoral damage.

“The only discomfort my heart has around that is that so many people have done spectacular work on this film. My hope is that my team isn’t penalized at all for my actions,” he told Entertainment Weekly during a roundtable with co-stars Ben Foster and Charmaine Bingwa.

He continued, “I definitely lose a couple winks of sleep every night thinking that I could have potentially penalized my team, but I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that everyone gets seen in the light that they deserve.”

Earlier this month, the “Independence Day” star shared a similar sentiment when he spoke about the possibly marred reception of “Emancipation.” “I completely understand that if someone is not ready, I would absolutely respect that and allow them their space to not be ready,” he told “Good Day DC” host Kevin McCarthy. “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.”

Fuqua defended his decision to move forward with the movie’s release when he spoke with Variety. “The film to me is bigger than that moment,” said the hugely respected director.

Fuqua added that throughout filming, Smith was a pleasure to have on set. He noted that Smith was kind, that he greeted and shook hands with the 300 film extras, and that on the hottest days, he shelled out his own money to pad the extras’ pay for the day. Similarly, “King Richard” cast members revealed that Smith wrote them personal checks after finding out they were not paid their worth.

“It was just crazy, really. It’s really hard to release a character who’s been brutalized and called the N-word every day — constantly, every day — and still be the nicest person in the world,” said Fuqua about the toll “Emancipation” may have taken on its leading man. “That, I know. So no excuses for anyone or anything, but I can say that he’s a good man, and I hope that people can forgive him and that we can move forward.

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