Hollywood execs stay silent on Will Smith Oscar incident

Dawn Chmielewski, Reuters

Posted at Mar 29 2022 08:17 AM | Updated as of Mar 29 2022 08:28 AM

A day after superstar Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock minutes before accepting the best actor Oscar at the 94th Academy Awards, Hollywood power brokers remained publicly silent even as celebrities criticized the attack on social media.

The lack of a reaction is a testament to Smith's broad popularity in Hollywood, and his powerful box office cachet, according to some observers.

On Monday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which gives out the Oscars and has 9,900 members from actors and directors to costume designers and cinematographers, condemned the attack and said it is conducting a formal review, and "will explore further action."

These actions could include revoking Smith's Oscar or expelling him from the academy, according to the group's standards of conduct.

But Hollywood is unlikely to altogether abandon Smith, 53, one of its most bankable stars, said industry insiders.

"The current attitude, I believe, is that the studio(s) want all this to go away as if it never happened," said one seasoned Hollywood dealmaker.

Another executive predicted the controversy would blow over, noting, "He's a talented guy at the top of his game ... This will be a blip and won't matter long- or even short-term."

Smith, who apologised to Rock in a statement on social media on Monday, has anchored such lucrative film franchises as "Bad Boys," "Independence Day" and "Men in Black." His films, both live-action and animated, have grossed more than $9 billion globally, according to box office researcher Comscore. 

The musician and actor rose to prominence as the twentysomething star of the 1990s NBC sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," a show that lasted six seasons. It helped launch his film career as an irreverent action hero, and later, his work as a producer of films and series.

Smith's producing credits include "Cobra Kai," the Netflix NFLX.O series inspired by the 1980s action film "The Karate Kid," and the film for which he received the lead actor Oscar, "King Richard," about the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.

In a sign of his enduring appeal with audiences, in July 2020, Apple Inc's AAPL.O Apple TV+ paid a reported $120 million for "Emancipation," an action thriller about a slave on the run from the Confederacy, and Netflix greenlit a sequel to the 2017 urban fantasy epic, "Bright," in 2018. Both star Smith.

The Walt Disney Co DIS.N announced in February it would send Smith to both ends of the earth for a National Geographic series called "Pole to Pole," for its Disney+ streaming service.

Netflix, Disney and Apple did not reply to requests for comment. Kevin Mayer, co-CEO of Candle Media, the Blackstone-backed BX.N firm that earlier this year took a minority stake in Will and Jada Pinkett Smith's media company, Westbrook Inc, declined to comment.

Smith's influence has expanded beyond Hollywood into Silicon Valley, where he is a co-founder of venture capital firm Dreamers VC, which has invested in a long list of startups including Andreessen Horowitz-backed electric boat startup Arc Boat, social investing network Public.com, and Elon Musk's tunneling firm, The Boring Company.

Arc Boat, Public.com and Westbrook did not respond to requests for comment.