Commentary

A Lose-Lose Proposition For Apple TV? Not So Fast!

Over the weekend I read with great interest an article in The New York Times titled "Apple Shot an Oscar Contender Starring Will Smith. That Was Before the Slap."

Essentially the premise was that Apple TV faces a conundrum and a lose-lose proposition regarding the planned -- or potentially delayed -- release of its latest film, the Civil War drama “Emancipation,” starring none other than Will Smith. 

The movie wrapped up its set about a month before the 2022 Oscar telecast that is now best known for the “slap heard ‘round Hollywood.”  

The question, posed by media writer Nicole Sperling (I’m a big fan), is whether the film should be released this calendar year -- which would put it in contention for the 2023 Oscars -- or held until 2023, presumably when the controversy is further in the past?

An additional question with presumably no good answer was posed by Stephen Galloway, the dean of Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts and the former executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter: “If they shelve the movie, does that tarnish Apple’s reputation? If they release it, does it tarnish their reputation?” He then added: “Hollywood likes a win-win situation. This one is lose-lose.”

My humble opinion (offered with a grain of salt, since I am clearly not a Hollywood or Academy Award expert) is that Apple should go ahead and release the film this year for three reasons:

The content is too good to hold back (evidently, it got rave reviews in audience screenings)

Apple’s reputation (aside from its penchant for low-budget advertising) will survive any negative feedback regarding its latest film’s lead actor.

The notion that it deserves(d) an Oscar will be the prevailing assumption throughout Hollywood, whether it is nominated or not, and whether it wins or not. 

I’d like to reiterate this last point. Because of the controversy (not only despite it), the film doesn’t need to win an Oscar anymore. If it doesn’t get nominated or awarded, most insiders (and just as importantly, viewers of the awards show) will assume the film deserved the award, but was snubbed due to the controversy.

The Court of Public Opinion will overrule the Academy -- even if it never intended to give the honor to this film or its cast. 

In addition, Will Smith has not become the pariah that some expected him to become. Just because he cannot participate in the Academy does not mean he is not respected as an actor. This is a lot different than, say, if Apple were releasing a movie starring Bill Cosby or Charlie Rose -- those projects would bring undue scrutiny that I would consider an unacceptable risk. 

So, I say release the film in 2022. Let the naysayers have their day -- but in the end, the movie (and the actor) will be judged in the box office, not by the Academy.

Golden statue or no, Apple has a win-win situation on its hands.

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