Apple TV+ pulls out of bidding war for Will Smith biopic after Oscars slap


Apple TV+ drops its bid.
Apple TV+ drops its bid.
Photo: Apple TV+

Both Apple TV+ and Netflix pulled out of a bidding war over a movie about Will Smith’s life amid controversy following the actor slapping comedian Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars.

In addition, Apple TV+ owns a $120 million film starring Smith entitled Emancipation. Already shot and being readied for release in time for next Oscars season, the movie could become a problem for Apple TV+.

Apple TV+ walks away from bidding war on upcoming Will Smith biopic

Apple fought with several other contenders to secure rights to a film based on the now-beleaguered actor’s best-selling autobiography, Will, published in 2021. But the streaming services withdrew its bid, The Sun reported on Sunday.

“Netflix and Apple+ have quietly removed their bids for a Will Smith biopic and will instead relocate the funds and develop original ideas from new black actors,” a source told the publication.

Since controversy erupted after Smith slapped Academy Awards host Rock, signs have proliferated that collaborators think it’s risky to work with Smith. It all started, of course, when Smith strode onstage at the Oscars and struck Rock after the comedian made a joke about the actor’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and her close-cropped hair. She has a medical condition that causes hair loss.

Shortly thereafter, Smith won the Oscar for Best Actor for his part in King Richard. Then, after making remarks in his Oscar acceptance speech that seemed to defend the slap, Smith later apologized for his actions and resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The previous year’s Best Actor winner almost always participates in the following season’s ceremony, but that apparently won’t be the case next year.

What will Apple TV+ do with Emancipation?

While movie studios can easily drop their bids on an upcoming project if controversy makes it too hot to handle, that’s not the only Will Smith-related problem Apple TV+ has.

Smith stars in a $120 million Apple TV+ movie called Emancipation that has already been filmed but not yet completed. Notably, production previously halted on it due to COVID-19. And Apple was named in a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment took place during filming, though Smith had no involvement.

In the movie, directed by Antoine Fuqua, Smith plays a real-life slave named Peter who lived on a Louisiana plantation in 1863, during the Civil War. After a brutal whipping, he fled north and joined the Union Army. A photograph that doctors took of his scars came to be known as “the scourged back” and gained fame worldwide. To many, it stood as proof of the cruelty of slavery and bolstered the abolitionist cause. And it helped lead to more free blacks joining the Union cause in the fight against the South.

With the film already shot, it’s pretty far down the production line toward release as an Oscar contender next season. So what will Apple do with its major Will Smith vehicle, already paid for? It’s not likely the slap controversy will fade completely by then.

If Apple TV+ proceeds, every media question during promotional marketing for the film may dwell on the slap and what Apple TV+ was thinking when it decided to stay the course. Or, maybe no one will much care by then. But if it chooses to replace Smith, it would not be the first time a movie is reshot with a new lead.


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