Will Smith is set to return in his first movie since the Oscars controversy, but he knows not everyone may want to see it.
In a new interview, the actor said he would “completely understand” if there was hesitation from moviegoers who may not be ready to watch Emancipation when it hits theaters this Friday.
“I completely understand that,” he told Fox 5. “If someone is not ready, I would absolutely respect that and allow them their space to not be ready.”
Emancipation is Smith’s first major movie role since he slapped Chris Rock after the comedian told a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, at the 94th Academy Awards in March.
But Smith is less concerned about himself and fears that the rest of the film’s cast and crew could be hurt by his actions.
“My deepest concern is my team,” he said. “The people on this team have done some of the best work of their entire careers. And my deepest hope is that my actions don’t penalize my team. So at this point, that’s what I’m working for. That’s what I’m hoping for. I’m hoping that the material, the power of the film, the timeliness of the story–I’m hoping that the good that can be done would open people’s hearts, at a minimum, to see and recognize and support the incredible artists in and around this film.”
Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer), Emancipation is based on the real-life story of a slave who escaped a plantation in Louisiana and joined the Union Army. In addition to Smith, the film stars Ben Foster and Charmaine Bingwa.
Smith apologized to Rock following the incident for which he was banned from returning to the Oscars for the next 10 years.
“I am deeply remorseful and I’m trying to be remorseful without being ashamed of myself,” Smith said in an emotional video in September. “I’m human and I made a mistake and I’m trying not to think of myself as a piece of sh*t.”
Emancipation premieres in theaters on Dec. 2 and Dec. 9 on Apple TV+.