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Did Will Smith Just Ruin His Career Over One Chris Rock Slap?

The 94th Academy Awards ceremony should have been the best night of Will Smith's acting career. After spending decades as a beloved box office star, he finally won the best actor prize for his performance as Richard Williams in "King Richard." Sadly, the night will go down in history as a career low for Big Willy after he stormed onto the stage and gave us a truly shocking moment that's since dominated the Oscars discourse, overshadowing all of the ceremony's many feel-good moments.

In case you need a refresher, the unforgettable moment occurred after Chris Rock took to the stage and made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's shaved head as a result of her alopecia ("Jada, can't wait for 'GI Jane 2,'" the comedian said). Moments later, Smith approached the comedian and slapped him right across the face, before returning to his seat and yelling, "Keep my wife's name out of your f***ing mouth" (via Twitter).

The violent outburst has divided people and many have condemned Smith's actions. The Academy has since launched an investigation into the incident and it's possible that Smith will face some repercussions. But will it spell the end of his career? That's highly unlikely. If Hollywood history has shown us anything, it's that anyone can return from a scandal. Smith slapping Rock is hardly the worst thing that's ever happened, and he's already taken the necessary steps toward rebuilding his image.

Will Smith apologized for his actions

The first step toward forgiveness is apologizing to those who have been wronged. Will Smith tried to make amends with his fellow nominees and the Academy during his acceptance speech at the ceremony. Then, on March 28, 2022, the actor took to Instagram and issued a formal apology to Chris Rock, explaining that his outburst was fueled by the sensitive nature of his wife's medical condition. He was quick to act, and he appeared to show genuine remorse. 

According to the experts, Smith's apologies should be enough to get his career back on track, assuming that he continues to stay out of the headlines for the wrong reasons. While speaking to The Guardian, film publicist Bumble Ward — who's no doubt dealt with a few celebrity scandals in the past — revealed that there is a process that actors can undergo in order to repair any career damage following an ordeal. "You have to apologize to those you've hurt. And then you have to behave in such a way that people don't believe it's going to happen again. But it has to be a proper apology. I think he did a lot of that work in his speech."

Smith's apology will go a long way toward showing people that he's taking accountability for the lapse in judgment. Of course, there are also some people out there who believe that his actions were justified, so he hasn't alienated all of his fans by any means.

The people are on Will Smith's side

The movie industry is a money-making juggernaut at the end of the day. As long as Will Smith remains popular among Hollywood's key demographics, he'll bounce back relatively unscathed. Furthermore, it seems that the people are on his side following the Oscars showdown. According to the New York Post, a new Blue Rose research poll has found that the majority of people surveyed believe that Chris Rock was in the wrong for telling the joke, and they do not blame the "King Richard" star for slapping him. Per the report, 52.3% of the 2,162 people questioned expressed their support for Smith's actions, most of whom were younger Americans.

These statistics will no doubt inform top movie studio executives who might be in two minds about working with Smith right now. As Statista points out, most American moviegoers fall into the 18-24 age demographic, with other younger age groups making up a substantial portion of those who attend multiplexes. Similarly, younger people are more likely to subscribe to streaming services. For example, over 70% of Americans aged between 18 and 44 currently have a Netflix subscription (per Statista). 

In short, Smith's biggest defenders consume movies and TV shows across a variety of mediums. "Bright 2" might still happen after all.

A laughing matter?

Violence should never be celebrated, and Will Smith shouldn't be absolved of criticism for his actions. However, the lighthearted responses to the situation have arguably overshadowed some of the most serious conversations and criticisms relating to the incident. Whether or not that's a good thing is up for debate, but it's clear that most people aren't out to cancel the actor. All one has to do is scroll through social media and see that the slap has inspired countless memes and humorous comments. The hashtag #whatjusthappened began trending on Twitter right after Smith smacked the comedian, and many fans and celebrities saw it as an opportunity to make jokes about the whole ordeal. At worst, both he and Chris Rock will be subject to some ribbing and mockery until another scandal comes along that dominates the headlines.

Rock doesn't appear to be mad at Smith either. The comedian and actor won't be pressing charges, which is hardly surprising considering that he didn't seem too fazed by the altercation at the time. The presenter brushed off the slap right after it happened and supposedly joked about it off-screen later on. "That's the only time you get hit [by] Muhammad Ali and it doesn't leave a scratch," Rock reportedly told the crew after he exited the Oscars stage on Sunday. 

If Rock can see the funny side, he is more likely to bury the hatchet with his attacker, which will be another mark in Smith's favor. Cue the redemption tour. 

Hollywood is forgiving

Will Smith isn't the first high-profile performer to recover from controversies and widespread backlash. Some performers have been involved in much worse situations and their careers have recovered, after all. Per Variety, Mel Gibson received critical acclaim and Oscar nods for "Hacksaw Ridge" back in 2016, despite having a well-documented history of racism, anti-Semitism, and alleged abusive behavior.

Roman Polanski, meanwhile, fled the United States in 1977 after being accused of misconduct with a minor. In 2003, he received a standing ovation at the Oscars after winning the best director award for "The Pianist." While he hasn't returned to Hollywood since he left America, he continues to work as a celebrated director. His last film, "An Officer and a Spy" was released in 2019.

Plenty of actors, filmmakers, and celebrities have enjoyed successful careers after being at the heart of some truly disturbing controversies. Smith slapping a comedian for joking about his wife is very tame in comparison. He'll be fine.