As buzz begins to build around Antoine Fuqua's Apple Original Film, Emancipation -- in which Smith stars as a man who escapes from slavery -- speculation is swirling about the film's awards season promise. According to a report from Variety, Smith could still be nominated for another Best Actor Oscar even after his fallout from slapping Rock during the live 2022 Academy Awards broadcast.
But there's a catch: following the incident, Smith resigned as a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, and was ultimately banned from the Oscars telecast and other Academy-sponsored events for 10 years. So while Smith, who also serves as a producer on Emancipation, is technically still eligible receive a nomination and award during the upcoming 2023 ceremony, he would not be allowed to appear in person or via telecast to accept.
The trade publication notes that it is not clear how aggressively Smith or Apple would ultimately campaign for his inclusion in an already-competitive race that includes Brendan Fraser for The Whale, Austin Butler for Elvis, Colin Farrell for The Banshees of Inisherin and Hugh Jackman for The Son, and that Smith wouldn't be able to promote himself at any Academy member gatherings, anyway.
He could, however, still be a presence at other awards season events like the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Over the weekend, the 54-year-old star -- who won his very first Oscar for King Richard this year -- stepped out for an advanced screening of Emancipation and addressed the crowd. The movie was shown to social impact leaders 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. I never wanted to show us like that, you know, and then this picture came along," he said. "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. It’s a film about the heart of a man."
The movie tells the story of Peter, 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," which show Peter’s bare back and contributed to growing public opposition to slavery.
Emancipation is set to premiere in theaters on Dec. 2 and globally on Apple TV+ on Dec. 9. By that time, Variety suggests, Apple is betting that the industry and the public will be less outraged by Smith's public scandal -- especially after he released a personal apology video regarding the incident.
"Will is feeling much more confident and much more positive and less depressed," a source previously told ET about Smith's post-apology state of mind. "He was in very low spirits prior to making his public apology."
"He feels less ashamed now and more comfortable being out and about in public again," the source continued, "because he has and continues to do the work that needs to be done for himself, his wife, his family, his friends, his colleagues, his fans, The Academy, Chris and Chris' family."