February 25, 2024

Jason Merritt/Getty Will Smith
Amid the release of the new trailer for Will Smith‘s first movie since his Oscars controversy, Emancipation, many are curious about whether he would be eligible for an Academy Award.
Smith won Best Actor earlier this year at the 94th Oscars earlier this year shortly after a stunning moment in which he slapped Chris Rock on live television onstage. Smith subsequently gave an emotional acceptance speech, though he did not apologize specifically to Rock at that time.
In the weeks following the show, Smith resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was eventually banned from attending Academy events for a decade. He has since apologized multiple times for his actions, including to Rock.
In the new drama, Smith portrays Peter, a man who escapes slavery and sets out on a quest for freedom while evading hunters in swamps of Louisiana.
“Although Will Smith resigned from the Academy and has been banned from attending the Oscar ceremony for the next 10 years, he is still technically eligible to be nominated and even win another award,” Entertainment Weekly Awards Correspondent Dave Karger tells PEOPLE.
Karger says that with Emancipation‘s current release plan, which is includes a theatrical run on Dec. 2, 2022, and a release on Apple TV+ a week later, Smith, 54, “could feasibly be a nominee again” at 2023’s Oscars ceremony.
“But he wouldn’t be able to accept the award in person if he were to win,” Karger notes.
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Apple TV+ Poster for Emancipation (2022)
RELATED: Will Smith’s First Movie Post-Chris Rock Slap Screens and Earns Praise: “A Story of Adversity”
An official synopsis for Emancipation says the film “tells the triumphant story of Peter (Smith), a man who escapes from slavery, relying on his wits, unwavering faith and deep love for his family to evade cold-blooded hunters and the unforgiving swamps of Louisiana on his quest for freedom.”
“The film is inspired by the 1863 photos of ‘Whipped Peter,’ taken during a Union Army medical examination, that first appeared in Harper’s Weekly,” the synopsis adds. “One image, known as ‘The Scourged Back,’ which shows Peter’s bare back mutilated by a whipping delivered by his enslavers, ultimately contributed to growing public opposition to slavery.”
Smith spoke about taking on his first acting role as a slave over the weekend, following an advance screening of Emancipation hosted together with the NAACP during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 51st Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.
“Throughout my career, I’ve turned down many films that were set in slavery,” Smith said, per The Hollywood Reporter. “I never wanted to show us like that. And then this picture came along. And this is not a film about slavery. This is a film about freedom. This is a film about resilience. This is a film about faith. This is a film about the heart of a man — what could be called the first viral image. Cameras had just been created, and the image of whipped Peter went around the world.”
Smith then called the photo a “rallying cry against slavery,” and one that inspired a film that he says he wanted to be part of in “a way that only Antoine Fuqua could deliver.” Fuqua has directed award-winning movies over the course of his career, including Training Day and The Equalizer.
Viewers at the screening shared their praise for the film on Twitter, with NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson writing in part, “It’s a story of adversity, of resilience, of love, and of triumph. Thank you Antoine Fuqua and Will Smith for sharing your gifts!”
Tonya J. Williams called the movie a “powerful & gut-wrenching depiction of the horrors of slavery in America” on Twitter, commending Smith on his performance.
“[Smith] who masterfully played the role Peter, spoke about how he (and we) hold space in this world using Peter’s life as the example,” Williams wrote. “Release this film!”
Smith has kept a relatively low profile since the Oscars in March, when he slapped Rock, 57, over a joke the comedian made about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith — who lives with alopecia — and her shaved head.
After apologizing to Rock in a statement posted on social media the day after the ceremony, Smith did so again in a video he shared to YouTubeInstagram and Facebook, telling Rock, “I’m here whenever you’re ready to talk.”
“I’ve reached out to Chris and the message that came back is that he’s not ready to talk, and when he is he will reach out,” Will said. “So I will say to you, Chris, I apologize to you. My behavior was unacceptable, and I’m here whenever you’re ready to talk.”
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