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

Apple TV+ and Netflix have both pulled out of a bidding war for a film about the life of Will Smith amid controversy after the actor slapped comedian Chris Rock onstage at the Oscars.

Additionally, Apple TV+ has a $120 million movie starring Smith titled Emancipation. Already shot and being prepared for release in time for next During Oscar season, the film could become a problem for Apple TV+.

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

Apple has battled with several other suitors to secure the rights to a film based on the now-beleaguered actor’s bestselling autobiography, Will bereleased in 2021. But the streaming services withdrew their offer, The Sun reported on Sunday.

“Netflix and Apple+ have quietly withdrawn their bids for a Will Smith biopic and will instead shift funds and develop original ideas for new black actors,” a source told the publication.

Since controversy erupted after Smith slapped Oscar host Rock, signs have proliferated that collaborators believe it’s risky to work with Smith. It all started, of course, when Smith took the stage at the Oscars and punched Rock after the comedian made a joke about the actor’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and her cropped hair. She has a medical condition that causes hair loss.

Shortly after, Smith won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in King Richard. Then, after making remarks in his Oscar acceptance speech that appeared 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 attends the following season’s ceremony, but apparently that 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 the controversy makes it too hot to handle, that’s not Will Smith’s only issue with Apple TV+.

Smith stars in a $120 million Apple TV+ movie titled Emancipation which has already been filmed but not yet finished. Notably, production had previously halted there due to COVID-19. And Apple was named in a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment took place during filming, although Smith was not involved.

In the film, directed by Antoine Fuqua, Smith plays an actual slave named Peter who lived on a plantation in Louisiana in 1863, during the Civil War. After a brutal whiplash, he fled north and joined the Union army. A photograph that doctors took of his scars became known as “the flagellated back” and gained worldwide fame. For many, it was proof of the cruelty of slavery and supported the abolitionist cause. And it helped bring more free blacks to join the Union cause in the fight against the South.

With the film already filmed, it’s quite far down the production line towards its release as an Oscar contender next season. So what is Apple going to do with its big Will Smith vehicle, already paid for? The slapping controversy is unlikely to die down completely by then.

If Apple TV+ does go ahead, every question from the media during promotional marketing for the movie could dwell on the slap and what Apple TV+ was thinking when it decided to stay the course. Or, maybe no one will care much until then. But if he chooses to replace Smith, it wouldn’t be the first time a movie returned with a new lead.

Laura J. Boyer