A slap could sting the Smith family brand

Now that Will Smith may not be welcome at the Oscars and his public reputation has been tarnished, studios may be wary of hiring him at the moment for lead roles in their biggest films.

By: Melena Ryzik, Nicole Sperling and Matt Stevens
From his start as a goofy, G-rated rapper and sitcom star through his carefully managed rise as a blockbuster action hero, Will Smith has spent decades radiating boundless likability. But his amiable image was something of a facade, he wrote in his memoir, noting that a therapist had nicknamed his nice guy persona “Uncle Fluffy.”
Smith said he had concocted this people-pleasing demeanor as a means of deflection during his turbulent childhood. “As an adult, he became my armor and my shield,” he wrote. “Uncle Fluffy paid the bills.”
Smith wrote that he had another, less public, side: “the General,” a punisher who emerged when joviality didn’t get the job done. “When the General shows up, people are shocked and confused,” he wrote in “Will,” his 2021 memoir. “It was sweetness, sweetness, sweetness and then sour, sour, sourness.”
Both sides of Smith, 53, were on display on one of the world’s biggest stages last week when he suddenly slapped comedian Chris Rock during the telecast of the Academy Awards ceremony, complaining that Rock had insulted his wife of 25 years, Jada Pinkett Smith, with a joke. Soon afterward, Smith won the Oscar for best actor and wept through his polarizing acceptance speech. Then he was off to the Vanity Fair party, dancing to “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” his chart-topping hit from the last century, as if nothing had happened.
Now Smith has resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that just honored him with an Oscar and that has condemned his actions and opened disciplinary proceedings against him. And he is confronting the possibility that a night that should have been the crowning moment of his professional career could wind up damaging a family brand rooted in his seemingly authentic congeniality.
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For several years, a growing branch of Smith family enterprises has adeptly delivered reality-style revelation and emotional intimacy across an expanding number of platforms. Beyond Smith’s acting career and his introspective, bestselling memoir, there is the popular “Red Table Talk” show on Facebook Watch, in which Pinkett Smith, their daughter, Willow, and Pinkett Smith’s mother, Adrienne Banfield Norris, hold forth on everything from racial identity to workout routines to the Smiths’ unconventional marriage.
Smith’s upcoming projects include Emancipation, a $100 million, high-prestige drama for Apple; an action thriller at Netflix; a remake of Planes, Trains and Automobiles in which he would star opposite Kevin Hart for Paramount; and the second installment of a travel series for National Geographic on Disney+. They are all under the banner of Westbrook Studios, the film and television arm of the media company that the Smith family started in 2019. It was valued at $600 million earlier this year when an investment firm bought a 10% stake.