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Will Smith takes to TikTok to keep the Oscar Slap Saga going

Smith’s blow-up with Chris Rock may never fade

Will Smith holding his oscar statue looking at camera like “huh?” in a nice yellow room with green plants and a white couch Image: Will Smith/TikTok
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Nearly a year after the slap heard around the world, 2022 Best Actor Oscar winner Will Smith has taken to TikTok to get cheeky and move on.

In a duet video posted Tuesday, Smith reacts to TikToker Sam Rossi aka @missmoneyworking, who digs into “an absolutely unhinged exercise” that will “change your life.” Rossi suggests that anyone looking to get real with themselves pick up an inanimate object and ask it what it thinks of you. The idea: Your intuition will “speak” to you as the object, and reveal something you may not be comfortable enough to say as yourself. So, at the end of the video, Smith tries out the experiment... with his Oscar statue.

“This has got to be the hardest flex in 2023,” writes one commenter.

It’s a funny bit — and a blip on what feels like an unprecedented public rehabilitation journey with no true end.

Last March, shortly before Smith picked up an Academy Award for his work in King Richard, ceremony host Chris Rock hurled an insult at Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, causing a blow up at the televised affair. “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!” Smith said after jumping up, taking to the stage, and smacking Rock in front of 16.6 million viewers. Smith immediately reacted to the altercation in his acceptance speech, then spent the subsequent months trying to repair the damage, a journey that ultimately led him to resign from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The AMPAS didn’t leave it at that: Noting that the 94th Oscars had been “overshadowed by the unacceptable and harmful behaviour we saw Mr Smith exhibit on stage,” the organization banned Smith from the Academy Awards for 10 years.

Smith, who prior to the slap and Oscar win had gone to great lengths to cash in traditional Hollywood fame for social media stardom on YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, and other platform real estate, did not duck out of the limelight for very long following the kerfuffle. As many had dubbed it, Smith, after a deep breath, was on the apology tour beginning in the summer of 2022. Last July, he released a YouTube apology video that would make the Try Guys proud, noting that he was “trying to be remorseful without being ashamed of myself. I’m human, and I made a mistake, and [...] I’m trying not to think of myself as a piece of shit.” Smith would bounce back on social media by August, with goofy videos poking fun at his newly deconstructed persona.

Unfortunately for Smith, there was a deadline on his brand realignment: Later in the year, the actor was set to lead Emancipation, a historical drama from Training Day director Antoine Fuqua about a runaway slave’s escape to freedom. Produced by Apple and Smith’s Westbrook Studios, the movie was pegged as a potential Oscar player — or would have been, if its lead hadn’t just been banned from the Oscars. While technically eligible for another Best Actor award, Hollywood pundits spent the fall wondering if Smith could dig himself out of the hole of the slap in time to make the case for a nomination. So did Smith.

“I definitely lose a couple winks of sleep every night thinking that I could have potentially penalized my team,” the actor said in a November interview with Entertainment Weekly. “But I’m going to do everything I can to make sure everyone gets seen in the light that they deserve.”

Later that month, with Oscar hype season in full swing, Smith joined Trevor Noah on The Daily Show to discuss the film — and once again dig into the slap, which continued to define his existence.

“That was a horrific night, as you can imagine,” Smith told Noah. “There’s many nuances and complexities to it. But at the end of the day, I just, I lost it, you know? I guess I would just say: You never know what someone is going through [...] I was going through something that night, you know? Not that that justifies my behavior at all.”

Later in the interview, Smith unpacked a bit of the psychology behind the eruption, saying that the man we saw take the stage and hit Chris Rock “was the little boy that watched his father beat up his mother, you know? All of that just bubbled up in that moment. That is not who I want to be.”

The 95th Academy Awards will be presented on March 12, 2023. Smith is not in the mix of Best Actor nominees, nor will he attend the event due to his Academy ban. But the conversation about the slap, or perhaps it’s the cultural fallout of a psychically explosive moment, continues. Data miners endlessly debate whether Smith’s famous-person stock has truly fallen; op-ed writers make the case for why Chris Rock deserved to be slapped; the British try to make jokes at Smith’s expense, much to the chagrin of society (and you better believe someone at the Oscars will “go there” during the telecast). The slap is here to stay, and Smith, a movie star on an endless apology tour and a social creator who needs content, knows it.