Will Smith Returns with “Emancipation”

Will Smith took the step back to the spotlight to talk about the new movie Emancipation, based on a true story of a slave named Peter and his escape from the plantation to find his family but is hunted throughout Louisiana on his way north where he would eventually join the Union Army.  More about the movie on a follow up article, but it is time for him to address the elephant in the room.

Will Smith walked out to Trevor’s desk looking somber and nervous.  After talking about the new movie, Trevor shifted the tone to prepare for a very serious conversation with Will about the night of the Oscars and the fact that it was simultaneously one of the best days and worst days of his life.

“That was a horrific night as you can imagine, you know there’s many nuances and complexities to it but at the end of the day I just, I lost it, you know and I guess what I would say you just never know what somebody’s going through”, he said. “Not that it justifies my behavior at all, I guess the thing that was most painful for me is I took my heart and made it hard for other people and it’s like I understood the idea where they say hurt people hurt people.”

will and jada Will Smith Returns with "Emancipation"
(Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

 Not justifying his actions, but mental health is an complex thing to navigate for everyone.  For child actors growing up in Hollywood where it is the only life they know, it is extremely more complex. He admitted in his memoir (released in 2021, months before the 2022 Oscars) feeling extreme guilt for not protecting his mother when his father was physically abusing her during his childhood. According to a number of experts from this article on PsychCentral who provided their professional opinion of The Slap, witnessing situations as a child like his father’s behavior can most definitely result in PTSD, with one of the symptoms being hypervigilance.  Personally, some behaviors Will exhibited that night at the Oscars could have been a symptom of hypervigilance as defined in the linked article, like taking things personally (assuming Chris Rock was offending Jada) and focusing intently on people’s expressions or tone of voice (seeing Jada’s expression).  It is so easy to judge celebrities because we see them a few times a year at these events, but as previously mentioned, you never know what anyone is going through.

Will talked about a few of the ripple effects that hit him hard and haven’t gone away. The most heartbreaking questions he had to answer were from younger family members. “My little my nephew Dom is nine and he is the sweetest little boy. We came home and it’s like he had stayed up late to see his uncle Will you know and we’re sitting in my kitchen and he’s on my lap and he’s holding the Oscar and he’s just like ‘why did you hit that man Uncle will?'”

When it comes to his peers who had a part in this movie, Will said “The one thing that’s killing me… so ‘Emancipation’ is Antoine’s Masterpiece…an absolute Masterpiece um Bob Richardson the Director of Photography and Ben Foster and just all the way down it’s like these top artists in the world have done some of the best work of their career and the idea that they might be denied because of me is like killing me dead. The thing that is so critical for me is that these people came and they trusted me and they were down for me and you know I just I hope that their work will be honored and their work will not be tainted based on you know a horrific decision on my part.”

Will Smith Trevor Noah nephew story2 Will Smith Returns with "Emancipation"
Photo: The Daily Show with Trevor Noah/Comedy Central

Trevor Noah did a great job with asking him the right questions without dragging Chris or Jada back in to this mess. Will used his go-to uncomfortable laughter to get through the questions, sometimes with real tears, and did not shy away from Trevor’s very straightforward and honest questions. The interview wrapped up with very introspective final thoughts:

“Over this last couple of months I had to forgive myself for being human and it’s like, trust me there’s nobody that hates the fact that I’m human more than me, just you finding that space for myself within myself to be human it’s like I’ve always wanted to be Superman. I’ve always wanted to swoop in and save the Damsel in Distress, and I had to humble down you know and realize that that I’m a flawed human and I still have an opportunity to go out in the world and contribute in a way that fills my heart and hopefully helps other people.”

You can watch the entire interview on YouTube here.

In the vast majority of cases, I strongly believe that the art (the movie ‘Emancipation’) needs to be separated from the artist (Will Smith) whenever these types of things happen(the recent notable exceptions: Kanye West, R. Kelly due to the nature of what they did). Of course they never in a million years thought that they would have this issue to deal with, but we are all human and Will is the one who is reminded 24/7 of the ripple effects of his actions.

“Emancipation” will be in theaters starting December 2, followed by the global release on Apple TV+ on December 9.

100322 Apple Original Films Emancipation Premiere Big Image 01 Will Smith Returns with "Emancipation"

Remember that 5 minute video he released a few months back? I am now convinced that he nor his PR team was behind that. Of the three questions that he answered in his video – “Did Jada make me do it” – that was not something he needed to address at that time and he did not owe that to us. So much therapy needed to take place to really get into the reasons why he did it. Totally speculating here, but what if she knows that one of his protective triggers is to roll her eyes and then he feels obligated to do something about it? The product placement, style of the set, what Will was wearing, how they shot the video – that looks like a “Red Table Talk” produced by Jada. Even her video addressing the slap left Will’s name out of it, and seemed lack of the type of support you should be giving your spouse in the most devastating time in his life. Read my article here where I break down these observations.

Note: The transcript of the Will Smith interview with Trevor Noah was edited to take out the words that were repeated two or more times in a row to make it easier to read.

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