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Will Smith Gets It If You Don't Want To See Emancipation Because Of Him

Less than a year after his Oscars slap heard 'round the world, Will Smith understands that some people aren't going to take his Hollywood return in Apple TV+'s "Emancipation" too kindly — and that's totally fine with him, the actor claims. 

"I completely understand that, if someone is not ready," Smith told journalist Kevin McCarthy during an "Emancipation" press roundup. "I would absolutely respect that and allow them their space to not be ready," Smith said. However, there is one thing about the Oscars backlash that is reportedly bothering him. 

For those who may have somehow forgotten the Oscars incident, Smith saw his career and legendary nice guy persona take a tremendous hit in the eyes of the public after he stormed up on stage at the 2022 Academy Awards and slapped Chris Rock across the face for a joke he did about Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock was presenting an award and had poked fun at Jada for having a shaved head, which is reportedly due to alopecia. Smith later apologized for his actions in an Instagram statement, saying his behavior was "unacceptable and inexcusable." He also released a recorded response on YouTube that featured multiple apologies to both Rock and his family, however, the comedian and actor has yet to formally respond. 

Since "Emancipation" comes out in December, some movie experts believe enough time has passed for Smith to make a successful comeback and run for Best Actor again following his win last year for "King Richard." But for the former "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" star, his main concern is for the rest of the "Emancipation" team.

Will Smith hopes people will look past his Oscars slap and see Emancipation for the great work his team did

When all is said and done with "Emancipation," Will Smith hopes audiences can look past his Oscars controversy with Chris Rock and ultimately embrace the historical film — not because he's in it, but rather for all the amazing work that director Antoine Fuqua and his team put in. 

"My deepest concern is my team," Smith told Kevin McCarthy. "Antoine has done what I think is the greatest work of his entire career," he said. "The people on this team have done some of the best work of their entire careers, and my deepest hope is that my actions don't penalize my team. At this point, that's what I'm working for."

Set during the Civil War era, "Emancipation" is a film that centers around an enslaved man, Peter, who escapes from a plantation and travels across the swamps of Louisiana to reunite with his family and eventually join the Union Army. It's based on the true story of "Whipped Peter," who became famous for a picture that was taken of his severely scarred and whipped back, which was later dubbed "The Scourged Back" (per History). The image was published in the Independent and Harper's Weekly and was credited with helping to sway the nation's views on slavery. Screenwriter Bill Collage reportedly used Civil War-era documents and Peter's own personal diaries to help pen the script. For Smith, the film's historical importance and overall message should be the main calling card for moviegoers, not him. 

"I'm hoping that the material — the power of the film, the timeliness of the story — I'm hoping that the good that can be done would open people's hearts at a minimum to see and recognize and support the incredible artists in and around this film," he told McCarthy. 

"Emancipation" is scheduled to get a limited release in theaters starting December 2 before hitting Apple TV+ on December 9.