Back Too Soon: Breaking Down Will Smith’s Apology

I wanted so badly to accept Will’s apology and welcome him back as if he never left. But I didn’t see the apology as much as I saw a celebrity who was reluctantly following the advice of his inner circle to test the waters of the public’s acceptance of his apology so they would forgive and forget before any new projects are released.

My brother and I grew up in the middle of Will Smith’s glory days. I got to see new episodes of Fresh Price of Bel Air. “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” and “Miami” were on the radio airwaves and I saved my allowance to buy the “Big Willie Style” CD. “Men In Black and “Independence Day were the biggest blockbusters at the box office, and I still quote the movies. Chris Rock came into my life with Beverly Hills Ninja and eventually Osmosis Jones and Grown Ups. As an adult, I got to introduce my daughter to the Madagascar movies. Maybe I’m being dramatic but when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock, I was crushed. The two have been a part of my life since the 90s. Of course I know movies are fake and they are just actors, but they were a big part of my childhood. That slap broke the fourth wall, and the magic of their movies came with the memory of the incident.

It has been about four months since Hollywood’s squeaky clean A-List actor did the unthinkable on a world stage and on the night that was supposed to be one of the best of his life. Chris Rock was doing what he is known for, what he is best at, and in any other scenario, would have been a typical night of performing on stage. The slap got the stand-up comic community on edge in anticipation of copy-cats. Comedians did experience an uptick of on-stage attacks including an audience member tackling Dave Chappelle with a fake gun in possession, and another during a Craig Robinson stand-up show involving a live shooter. If Jada thought that G.I. Jane joke was bad, there was no way either of them could handle the insane number of ruthless jokes made at mostly Will’s expense that were to follow.

I think my PR background made it impossible to see it the way I wanted it to be. I do believe Will Smith is very remorseful and he is going through some extremely difficult self-reflection and therapy. His apology in the video is coming from the right place with good intentions, but I’m sure every part of this video was decided by someone other than Will. I just don’t think he was ready to do it so soon. With that said, here are the things I observed.

Will Smith is not a hat guy.

What you wear is extremely important for an apology video, and unfortunately I don’t think the outfit matched the situation.

This is the Will Smith I am used to seeing:

This is the Will Smith in the video:

It looked like he was on his way to play golf. The hat and the polo shirt were not a good combination. Maybe one or the other, but either way I am not used to Will Smith in a hat. Then I looked a little closer…

I wish it wasn’t true. I wish there wasn’t anything at all on set. Just take out the water and take off the hat. But now Jaden’s company was brought in to this mess (it still could turn out ok, maybe even boost sales as intended). I think its common sense to not promote your companies during an apology video of this magnitude.

The facial expressions said a lot.

Again, the intentions were good and I’m sure he genuinely wants to make it right. It felt like it was a version of his own words and not in the way he wanted to express them. I felt the script was misguided, and a few things stood out that felt a little like the purpose of the video was more to clear the Smith’s name, not apologize to Chris.

First, he speaks to Chris directly.

Usually these incidents come with an ambiguous timeline: The worse the offense, the longer you lay low. 4 months is way to short. If it really was about Chris, he should probably wait to speak to Chris. The video could be seen as a way of making Will the mature one and Chris is the one who isn’t ready. Chris owes nothing to Will Smith. Now Chris has to be bombarded by the press asking what his response is to the apology video while he is busy in the middle of his comedy tour. People would understand if he hasn’t said anything because he wants to talk to Chris first. It shouldn’t be forced just because the public wants to know. This is much deeper than most situations where we are waiting for a public apology. When he says “disrespect”, his expressions seem to align with what he was likely feeling at the time of the incident.

Jada gets her own apology even though she left him to fend for his own.

Jada isn’t standing up for him anywhere. Her statement during her Red Table Talk episode back in April addressed the slap, but it felt like she was commenting on two people she knows and not her husband. This is the whole statement:

Now about Oscar night. My deepest hope is that these two intelligent capable men have an opportunity to heal, talk this out, and reconcile. The state of the world today, we need them both and we all actually need one another more than ever. Until then Will and I are continuing to do what we have done for the last 28 years, and that’s keep figuring out this thing called life together. Thank you for listening.

Red Table Talk is owned by Will and Jada’s company, Westbrook. I’m totally speculating based on pure observations…but it wouldn’t be the craziest thing if Jada pressured Will to jump the gun and apologize sooner than he was ready for so that she can get back in the good graces of her viewers.

Comparing the two videos, the production was very “Red Table Talk”.

The Questlove apology was very real.

Will became visibly emotional talking about Questlove. I can see how this would be hitting him the hardest. Questlove was quite literally an innocent bystander.

In all seriousness, get well soon and take your time.

We all witnessed a childhood hero experience an emotional breakdown in real time, and it is something he will probably never get over. He is pretty much living in his worst nightmare every day. Some of the terms like “central trauma” and his comment that he is remorseful and trying not to feel ashamed sound clear to me that he is working through this in therapy.

…disappointing people is my central trauma. I hate when I let people down. So it, it hurts, it hurts me psychologically and emotionally to know I didn’t live up to people’s image and impression of me. And the work I’m trying to do is, I am deeply remorseful, and I’m trying to be remorseful without being ashamed of myself.

All said and done, I really want Will to work through this trauma, heal and bounce back, at least for his own happiness and love for life. Everyone will not forgive him, but he has to do things on his own terms for his mental health.

I know it was confusing, I know it was shocking. But I promise you, I am deeply devoted and committed to putting light and love and joy into the world. And, you know, if you hang on, I promise we’ll be able to be friends again.

– Will Smith



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