Like it or not, Will Smith is back. The actor has quietly ramped up his press tour game for his new film Emancipation, which premieres under the cloud of the Oscars Slap scandal that occurred earlier this year. Inevitably, he’s had to address the assault on Chris Rock that night, acknowledge that it was a “horrific night,” and accept that people might not welcome him back into the fold.
Nevertheless, he returned to the red carpet for Emancipation’s premiere, which, if not a full welcome from Hollywood, is at least something near it. Much like that night at the Academy Awards, he was flanked by his family–wife Jada Pinkett Smith and their children Jaden and Willow, as well as Trey, his oldest son with ex-wife Sheree Zampino–to watch a movie Smith has described as “the best work” of director Antoine Fuqua’s career.
Whether the audience agrees with that assessment is a mixed bag. It currently rests at 63% on Rotten Tomatoes with 23 reviews. The Hollywood Reporter calls the film, about an enslaved man escaping to freedom, “propulsive but shallow,” while The Guardian calls it “a strong, fierce, heartfelt movie.” Most reviews agree that the movie, which is built around a real photograph of a man referred to as “Whipped Peter,” is intensely brutal.
IndieWire’s David Ehrlich writes that the film is “an over-inflated B movie with little gold delusions of grandeur.” Yet others, like Variety’s Clayton Davis, have flagged Fuqua’s direction as a deserved awards contender. And even some lukewarm reviews of the film, like that of Empire magazine’s John Nugent, have highlighted Smith’s “outstanding, understated performance.”
It would be a shocking upset for Smith to land back on the list of Best Actor nominees, especially after many voters have specifically expressed their distaste for his actions. It remains to be seen whether his current apology tour has softened anyone up, or whether the public will embrace Emancipation when it lands on Apple TV+ on December 9.