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In the fallout from Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars, his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and two of his children, Jaden and Willow, also are facing backlash and scrutiny to the extent that their own careers as performers and purveyors of reality TV-style celebrity could be impacted.
“It’s been a nightmare for everyone,” a source close to the family told Us Weekly, about the shocking moment of public violence perpetrated by the famously friendly Smith patriarch. “Will knows the road to redemption is going to be a long and painful one, and there’s a part of him that’s grown to accept he’ll never be able to fully repair the damage that was caused.”
Smith’s decision to resign from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last Friday was speculated to be a move concocted by his P.R. team to limit some of the damage, but the Academy still has the option to discipline him, and moved up its hearing about possible consequences to Friday.
The discipline could include barring Smith, 53, from attending next year’s ceremony, where tradition would call on him to announce the winner for best actress. The academy could also decide to make him ineligible for future awards consideration. Film journalists, though, doubt that the academy would vote to rescind the best-actor Oscar award he won for “King Richard.”
Whatever happens with Smith and the academy, the damage from his attack could fall heavily on his family’s brand, the New York Times reported. The global superstar is “confronting the very real possibility that a night which should have been the crowning moment of his professional career could wind up damaging a family brand rooted in his seemingly-authentic congeniality.”
Aside from Smith’s acting career, the Smith family “enterprises” include the music and acting careers of Jaden, 23, and Willow, 21. The family’s signature project is Jada Pinkett Smith’s popular “Red Table Talk” show on Facebook Watch. On the show, she, her mother and Willow engage in vulnerable conversations about race, marriage, sexuality and parent-child relationships. Sometimes they chat with celebrity guests but they also talk amongst themselves and sometimes reveal family secrets that make headlines.
Smith slapped Rock after the comedian, who was presenting the award for best documentary, made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head. Reportedly unbeknownst to Rock, Pinkett Smith shaved her head because she has alopecia, a condition that causes one’s hair to fall out in clumps. Pinkett Smith has discussed her struggles with alopecia on social media and on Red Table Talk.
Many saw Pinkett Smith, 50, as one of the offended parties on Oscars night. Nonetheless, she may have contributed to people’s negative feelings about her family because she joined her husband and children in happily celebrating his win at the Vanity Fair’s Oscars party, “as if nothing happened,” the New York Times said.
In addition to slapping Rock, Smith also gave a polarizing acceptance speech, in which he seemed to justify his attack by saying “love makes you do crazy things.” More egregiously, he sucked attention away from the other awards and nominees.
At the party, Smith rapped and danced to “Getting Jiggy Wit It,’ his hit from his youthful days a rapper. Jaden Smith boasted on Twitter: “And that’s how we do it,” Inexplicably, Jada Pinkett Smith proclaimed to the Hollywood Reporter: “It’s been a beautiful night.”
To many on social media, the family showed arrogance and privilege in the way they partied through the night, seemingly oblivious to the industry turmoil and controversy that had been unleashed by Smith’s attack.
The Picture They Should Have Taken If He Hadn't Slapped A Comedian/Presenter, Doesn't Look Too Apologetic To Me. Let Him Keep The Award And Ban Him From Future Ocars. @chrisrock Can Present Best Actress Next Year
— Damien Mc Guinness (@DamienLivdmg) March 31, 2022
By the following day, the outrage appeared to finally reach Smith, who issued a more formal apology to Rock and the academy.
“My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear, and I reacted emotionally,” Smith said. “I am embarrassed, and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be.”
Indeed, people who know Smith or who have worked with him said the attack was totally out of character. In one of two recent stories about the Smith family brand, the New York Times noted that the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” alum spent decades carefully building a career, first as an action star, then as a serious actor, in which he “radiates boundless likability.”
But Smith’s apology and resignation probably won’t be enough to stop the attack from becoming a prominent feature of his legacy. Now the question remains: How much damage has he done to people’s image of Smith’s “seemingly-enviable family life,” as the New York Times said.
That enviable life also is based on the family’s brand of “intimacy,” in which they appear to open up about their lives in a genuine way, the Times also said. They have become “the first family of putting it all out there” and remade themselves to fit a “new era of reality-driven celebrity.”
As Smith was doing publicity for “King Richard,” he also was promoting his introspective, best-selling memoir, “Will.” Among other things, Smith revealed in his book that he still felt guilt because he believes he failed to protect his mother as a child when his father abused her.
It’s easy to see Smith’s book as an outgrowth of the confessional discussions that Jada Pinkett Smith has led on “Red Table Talk” since 2018. In one notable episode in 2020, Jada and Will appeared to honestly address longstanding rumors that they have an open marriage. That’s when Jada confessed that she had been in an “entanglement” with rapper August Alsina when she and Will were separated.
Since the slap, such personal revelations have been picked apart by writers and people on social media, who now wonder how forthright the couple has been with their fans. People wonder: Were they hiding things all along?
People also speculated that Smith’s anger could have been triggered by his childhood trauma of not being able to protect his mother from his father. Others have more cynically suggested that Smith lashed out because he needed to prove he was man enough to protect his wife’s honor after she had been insulted by Rock. They wonder if he was fed up with people making jokes about him being “cuckolded” by his wife’s public admission that she’d had a relationship with another man.
In the days after the slap, reports surfaced that Smith could appear on Red Table Talk for his first interview, and he and Jada could dig into why he lost his famous self-control and engaged in such a public act of self-sabotage, but the couple would probably open themselves up to criticism that they were using a sympathetic forum to spin a certain narrative. People have also said Smith should do his first interview with Oprah Winfrey because they believe she would be the best broadcaster to push Smith to reckon with his choices.
Since Oscars night, Smith’s family have avoided explicitly commenting on the situation in order to avoid attracting even more attention, Us Weekly said. Pinkett Smith only shared a quote on Instagram that read: “This is a season for healing and I’m here for it.” Willow Smith also has shared some philosophical musings, such as: “The meaning of life is found in challenge. Life is a series of reactions.”
An insider told Us Weekly that Smith’s family know they have to keep a low profile. “The only healer is time,” the insider said.
Over time, people might be willing to give Smith and his family the benefit of the doubt, veteran reality TV producer Jonathan Murray told the Times, but how the family recovers from this public relations nightmare depends on what steps they, and particularly Smith, take in the coming days and weeks, said Murray, who has worked on reality family shows, including “Keeping Up WIth the Kardashians,”
Being authentic is key, especially because the Smiths have built their brand on being honest with their fans, Murray told the Times. “It really will rest on whether we believe that he is authentically dealing with this,” Murray said.
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