Will Smith is launching a comeback. It’s not going well.

Cast your minds back to 1997: Will Smith was, quite literally, everywhere.

Off the back of his long-running sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, he had the biggest movie in the world, Men In Black, he was scaling the charts with his debut album Big Willie Style (my first CD, humble brag), and he was delighting audiences around the world on late-night talk shows with his indefinable charisma.

When the term 'triple threat' is bandied about, Will Smith was this and then some: a skilled and dedicated actor, an amazing rapper and performer, and above all, he was a loveable, funny guy. 

But fast-forward to 15 years later and one moment would not just derail his career, but eviscerate the 'nice guy' persona that was a crucial part of the Will Smith brand. 

Yep, we're talking about The Slap

Two years ago, Smith struck comedian Chris Rock on stage at the 2022 Academy Awards after the comedian made a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. After the slap, Smith was filmed shouting from the audience "Keep my wife's name out of your f**king mouth." 

Will Smith slaps Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Annual Academy Awards. Image: Getty. 


The slap went down on live TV and sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry. Smith resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and he was banned from the Oscars for 10 years. 

From here, everything quickly fell apart for the Oscar winner. Netflix reportedly cancelled production on his action film Fast and Loose, before production was stalled on another Bad Boys sequel and a planned National Geographic documentary.

In a press interview, he stated that he "completely understands" if viewers weren't ready to see him in a film after his actions. The timing was especially awkward as Apple TV was just about to release Smith's latest movie Emancipation, based on the true story of a man captured in an 1863 photograph, one of the impactful images of the horrors of slavery.


Despite some positive reviews, the film failed to make many waves off the back of the Oscars controversy. The director of Emancipation, Antoine Fuqua, expressed some concern about how the Oscars controversy would impact the success of his film. 

"People were worried; there's a lot of money involved in how people in the world felt about that moment," he told the Los Angeles Times. "I was worried, of course, as a filmmaker, because so many people worked on this film and gave their heart and soul... I thought it would be a shame for it to never be seen by anyone."

Will Smith in the slavery biopic, Emancipation. Image: Apple TV. 


The King Richard star later appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah to address what happened. 

"That was a horrific night, as you can imagine," Smith said. 

“There’s many nuances and complexities to it. But at the end of the day, I just — I lost it, you know? I was going through something that night, you know? Not that that justifies my behaviour at all… It was a lot of things."

Smith went on to suggest that it was a longstanding personal grudge he had against Rock that led to the slap. 

"I was gone. That was a rage that had been bottled for a really long time," Smith explained.

Rock declined to press charges against Smith but he addressed the incident in a Netflix comedy special in March 2023. 

"A year ago last week, I got smacked at the f***ing Oscars by this motherf*****," he said. "A lot of people go, 'Chris, how come you didn't do nothing back?' Because I've got parents! That's why. Because I was raised."

But just as people started to forget the Oscars incident, Smith's wife Jada Pinkett Smith released a memoir which only added to the confusion. In her book Worthy from September 2023, she wrote that when Will had yelled for Chris to "keep my wife's name" out of his mouth, the couple were already separated and had been for years.


This brings us to 2024: a year when Will Smith has launched one hell of a comeback — spanning film and music. 

Unlike the failure of Emancipation, Smith's second post-slap venture was far more successful. 

In the actor's first theatrical release since the infamous incident, Bad Boys: Ride or Die was finally released and has become a huge success. 

Watch the trailer. Post continues after video.

Video via Sony Pictures.

The film features Smith reuniting with Martin Lawrence for another instalment of the iconic buddy cop comedy. The fourth film in the franchise has already surpassed $360 million at the global box office, making it the second-biggest instalment in the action-comedy's history, behind Bad Boys for Life

Clearly, Smith's controversy has done nothing to sway away fans. In fact, many reviewers reckon the slap gets a cheeky nod in the new film. In one scene, Smith's character Marcus slaps Lawrence's Mike several times. 


And now that Smith is back and better than ever on the silver screen, he's turned his attention back to his music career. Earlier this month, the 'Miami' rapper performed his new song 'You Can Make It' at the 2024 BET Awards. The song was a notable pivot from some of Smith's earlier works. 

Smith raps about overcoming hardships and finding strength in adversity. "The darker the hell you gotta endure, the brighter the heaven you get to enjoy," he rapped on stage. 

"God opens a window when the devil closes the door."

For a rapper known for singing such iconic lines as 'Gettin' jiggy wit it, na-na-na-na-na-nah-na', this is quite the change of the style — swapping catchy hip-hop tunes for gospel anthems.   

But it was who Smith decided to collaborate with for the performance that has drawn some criticism. Along with gospel artists Kirk Franklin and Chandler Moore, he's enlisted the help of Kanye West's Sunday Service Choir.

Will Smith performs onstage at the the 2024 BET Awards. Image: Getty. 


The overall style of the performance also drew comparisons to Kanye's trademark aesthetic.

The backlash was immediate but divided: some said Smith was copying West while other raised concerns with the actor potentially collaborating with the 'Stronger' rapper, who has been hit with a slew of controversies in recent years, ranging from making antisemitic comments to being sued for sexual harassment. 

More concerningly, Smith and West have recently been spotted together, including a flight back to Los Angeles from the Middle East, which has fueled speculation about a potential collaboration. 

Then the actor was captured posing for a photo with another controversial man in the entertainment industry: Johnny Depp. This week, Smith seemingly partied with the divisive actor on a superyacht in Tuscany on the way to Andrea Bocelli's 30th anniversary concert series.


Johnny Depp and Will Smith are photographed together. Image: Instagram/@ahmedsaadofficial.

Both controversial actors are set to be among the star-studded lineup at the Teatro del Silenzio in Lajatico, Italy.

Depp has become more synonymous with his court battle with ex-wife Amber Heard than his acting career. Back in 2018, Heard wrote an op-ed about her experience with 'domestic abuse' which led to the actress being taken to trial for defamation in 2022, a case which Depp won. 


But back in 2020, he had previously lost a defamation case against the Sun newspaper over an article that referred to the actor as a "wife beater".

In text messages he sent to a friend, released during the 2022 trial, Depp fantasised about murdering his then-wife, writing "I will f**k her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she's dead."

There's no denying that Smith aligning himself with men as controversial Depp and West could be his first mistake on his path to salvaging his career. It remains to be seen whether Smith will actually team up with Kanye West or whether he has forged a genuine friendship with the Pirates of the Caribbean actor. 

But with a blockbuster movie under his belt and the distance of time, Smith is in a much better position than he was two years ago. Until then, you can go watch Bad Boys: Ride or Die at the cinema, or if you're still 'Team Rock', stream Selective Outrage on Netflix. 

Feature image: Instagram/@ahmedsaadofficial.

This article was originally published on July 8, 2024 and has since been updated with new information.

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