Will Smith addresses backlash over releasing new film so soon after Oscars slap

Will Smith has responded to criticism over his new film being released so soon after he slapped Chris Rock at the Academy Awards in March.

The 54-year-old stars as Peter in upcoming Apple TV+ flick Emancipation, which follows the journey of an enslaved man who escapes from a Louisiana plantation and joins the Union Army during the Civil War.

It marks his first project to be released since the controversy at this year’s Oscars ceremony, when he stormed on stage to confront Chris Rock over a joke regarding wife Jada Pinkett Smith.

He subsequently announced his resignation from the Academy, while bosses confirmed he would serve a 10-year ban from all Oscars-related events.

Asked about some people’s feelings that they would struggle to watch the new film so soon after the incident, he told Jake Hamilton on his Jake’s Takes YouTube Channel: ‘I feel like that’s the type of thing that you would say before you sit in the movie theatre.

‘I think the work that [director Antoine Fuqua] has done, and all of the artists involved with this film, I would hope that the importance of the story and the importance of Peter rise above those feelings and emotions.’

He described the period since the Oscars as ‘difficult’, but urged filmgoers not to ‘penalise’ the rest of the cast and crew who have worked hard on the project.

He added: ‘It certainly has been a difficult last few months. And I would just hope that these spectacular artists who have come together on this project, I would hope that they would not be penalised for a few horrific moments of indiscretion on my part.’

Meanwhile, Will also reflected on his experience working on the movie, and the lessons he learned from his character.

‘It was interesting that the playing of Peter led into this last few months of my life. There was a new idea that came through, the ability to have an open heart in hell, is the only way to be here,’ he said.

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‘That is the giant, spiritual lesson that I took away from Peter. It’s the lesson of all of our holy books. Can we have an open heart in hell? For me, when I look at Peter and when I see humans who have learned how to do that, that is the north star for me.

‘That’s the sound of the cannons that I’m following. I will purify my heart and purify my mind and purify my actions, to the point that I can sit comfortably with my heart wide open in hell.’

is set to premiere in cinemas on December 2, before landing on the streaming service on December 9.

In an emotional teaser, Will – who stars as Peter – could be seen being wheeled away in a cage as he is told: ’You walk the earth because I let you. I’m your God now.’

‘Give thanks to God,’ he tells his family. ‘The Lord is with us. What can a mere man do to me?’

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