THB #229: 23 Weeks - A Really Bad Idea
When I heard this idea last week, I was a little stunned. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. The hubris of the move was self-evident. It became real when this ball tickler… uh, breaking news interview from Deadline’s Mike Fleming, landed yesterday (Monday).
The more I think about it, the more terrible this choice is.
“From the reigning Oscar-slapper, an action-packed slavery movie, just in time to distract you from Till and The Woman King, in pretentious black and white and with bad skin and a goatee on Big Willie’s movie star’s face and an accent as odd as Tom Hanks in Elvis, to show it has the most meaning of all the ‘based on a true story entries,’ visionary director Antoine Fuqua’s Emancipation.”
This is a mistake.
Allow me to start with this qualifier. Anyone who read me in the late 90s and early 00s knows that I have been as big a fact-driven supporter of Will Smith being seen as a massive movie star as there was. He was the biggest movie star in the world for years, on and off, between 1997 and 2008. Then he tanked his career for 5 - 7 years before relaunching effectively with Suicide Squad, the (terrible, but successful) live-action Aladdin, and the #1 movie in the COVID-shortened movie year that was 2020, Bad Boys For Life.
When people ask me about favorite DP/30 interviews, one of the names that always comes out is Antoine Fuqua, who sat with me for Brooklyn’s Finest when I really didn’t want to do the interview and he was so honest and thoughtful that he reminded me how much of a mistake it is to judge people without first having had a real connection.
When Fuqua expresses passion about Emancipation, I believe it. Passionate guy. When he is in it, he is way in it.
But still… this Oscar-desperate 2022 release of Emancipation is a horrible idea.
And it’s not just because Will Smith humiliated himself and The Academy just a few short months ago… though that is a big part of it.
It is said that some professions require an ability to quickly erase your memory because otherwise it is too hard to get back to the job. And maybe movie star is one of those jobs. So maybe Will Smith is happy to forget that his following stopped following him when he took 4 years off between movies after Hancock, returning with a bad Men in Black III, the car wreck of After Earth, a pretty good movie that got crushed by Will Smith disinterest in Focus, and that he didn’t walk into an Oscar nomination for Concussion, starting the era of #OscarSoWhite.
Maybe he had a concussion when he accepted a role in Collateral Beauty, but he reemerged with the classic Big Willie role of the genie in Aladdin, the terrible but ambitious Gemini Man, which gets (and should get) blamed on Ang Lee, the well-liked animated Spies in Disguise, and Bad Boys For Life, for which he and James Lassiter and Team Bruckheimer found and gave the reigns to one of the best action directing teams of the moment, then first-timers Adil and Bilall.
But in shoving this film into the award season, Mr. Smith seems to have forgotten the years he spent wandering the desert.
No one wants Will Smith to make a comeback next month.
Well… maybe HFPA, which is owned by Deadline’s owner’s business partner in what was Dick Clark Productions. No reason why Apple can’t literally just buy a Best Picture and Best Actor nomination from the group. What, $20k a member? $2 million is cheap. The Golden Globes is openly and legally a paid award show now, responsible to no one. Open for business.
But Will Smith doesn’t seems to think he needs to buy his way in… but rather that everyone is waiting, arms open, for his return.
I love the performer that is Will Smith. But I have zero interest in seeing him charm and smile his way through award season this year. He fucked up really bad. No one else is responsible for this. The Academy did a horrible job responding… but he was the one who walked on a live television stage and assaulted a stand up comic for telling a truly minor joke. He behaved like someone who was mentally ill and uninterested in the rules of the world in which he and the entire industry lives. He might as well have pulled down his pants and taken a crap on the stage.
But now, less than a year later, it’s time to get behind Will Smith as an underdog hero?
But the choice to include Emancipation in this year’s award season is bad for other reasons as well.
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