Will Smith’s Oscars Slap Haunts Apple

Thom Weidlich 09.22.22


We have a good example this week of how a crisis for one can turn into a crisis for others. It shows the importance of monitoring for potential problems that can creep up on you. And it’s a good reminder to cast a wide net when considering crisis scenarios.

These musings are provoked by a New York Times article depicting the angst of a computer outfit called Apple Inc. The company has produced an expensive Civil War film, Emancipation. The problem is that it stars Will Smith, he of the famous “slap heard around the world.” Synopsis: At the Oscars award ceremony in March, Smith took umbrage at a joke host Chris Rock cracked about his wife, and leaped on the stage and slapped him.

So now Apple is like Hamlet, hemming and hawing about whether to release the movie this year — its star is now a pariah — or wait until 2023 when things may have cooled down. The issue is getting urgent because, to be considered for the next Oscars, the film must be released by Dec. 31 (and it’s reportedly getting positive screen-test responses).

Academy Ban

NYT media and entertainment reporter Nicole Sperling nicely lays out the issues confronting Apple. Smith’s inclusion in the flick could upset members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, presenter of the Oscars, and hurt its award chances. This is especially so since the academy, from which Smith has resigned, has banned him from the ceremony for 10 years.

As Sperling writes, “Should the company postpone a film based on an important historical subject because its leading man is too toxic? Or does Apple release the movie and watch the outcome unfold?”

Either decision could hurt Apple’s reputation. Sperling quotes former Hollywood Reporter Executive Editor Stephen Galloway: “If they shelve the movie, does that tarnish Apple’s reputation? If they release it, does it tarnish their reputation?”

Tough Decisions

These are the kinds of tough decisions companies face in crises and the calculations they must make. It ain’t easy. Again, this storyline shows how an organization might have to grapple with outside events to maintain its own reputation. This should be on all crisis communicators’ radars.

Soon after the slap, Smith apologized on social media, but it didn’t go over very well. In July he released a nearly six-minute video apologizing to Rock and his family that has gotten almost 4 million views on YouTube.

Photo Credit: pio3/Shutterstock

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Related:Crisis Lessons From Will Smith’s New Flick, ‘The Slap’