Apple executives are reportedly torn over whether to delay the release of a movie starring Will Smith that they saw as a major Oscars contender before his infamous slapping of comedian Chris Rock at the Academy Awards last March.

The uproar of “the slap heard ‘round the world” has prompted hand-wringing discussions within Apple over whether to release the film, titled “Emancipation,” before the end of the year or delay it into 2023, a report said Sunday.

The Civil War drama — for which Apple shelled out $120 million for the rights alone — would be eligible for consideration in the upcoming awards season if it is released later this year.

But executives are concerned that the damage to Smith’s reputation could tarnish Apple’s brand if the movie is released, the New York Times reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.

Even if the film is successful, an Oscars campaign featuring Smith could hurt company’s standing with the academy and its voting members. Smith resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in the aftermath of the slap and is barred from attending any of its events for the next 10 years – meaning he wouldn’t be present at the ceremony regardless.

Will Smith
Will Smith resigned from the Academy earlier this year.
Getty Images

The film’s uncertain future is also a financial headache for Apple’s fledging entertainment wing, whose stalled “Emancipation” project follows the story of an escaped slave who later joins the Union Army to fight against his oppressors.

“Regardless of the quality of the movie, all of the press, all the reviewers, all of the feature writers, all the awards prognosticators are going to be looking at it and talking about the slap,” Stephen Gilula, the former co-CEO of the film studio Fox Searchlight, told the New York Times.

“There’s a very high risk that the film will not get judged on its pure merit. It puts it into a very untenable context,” he added.

Will Smith has kept a low profile since the slapping incident.
Will Smith has kept a low profile since the slapping incident.
Getty Images

Meanwhile, “Emancipation” reportedly wowed the audience during a test screening earlier this year, generating an “overwhelmingly positive reaction,” sources told the outlet.

The Post has reached out to Apple for comment.

Smith has kept a low profile since the altercation, which occurred after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock poked fun at Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, quipping “Jada, I love you, ‘G.I. Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it.”

Pinkett Smith had been open about suffering from the hair loss condition alopecia.

Apple reportedly paid $120 million for the rights to the film “Emancipation.”
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

Smith initially screamed at Rock from his seat in the audience before rushing the stage and hitting him. Minutes later, he won the Oscar for best actor for his work in the movie “King Richard.”

Smith later apologized for his actions, calling the slap “unacceptable and inexcusable.” The incident resulted in dozens of FCC complaints from TV viewers.


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Tyler Cowan