“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
These were the celebrated words delivered by Patricia Arquette at the Oscars in 2015 during her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress for the film Boyhood. A speech that was, at the time, endorsed by Meryl Streep. While the Oscars has had its fair share of awkward moments, it’s equally been used as a platform for greater societal good and lobbying of causes that touch global audiences. Very rightly so.
In the wake of Sunday’s Oscars ceremony and a slap accompanied by a foul-mouthed rant, the PR industry has set about dissecting the moment and what it means for Big Will and the prestigious awards ceremony.
Some industry skeptics have analysed every inch of the footage from the stage, assessed Chris Rock’s relationship with Will Smith and accused it of being a PR stunt. Surely not?
Physical assault on someone over an ill-judged joke to reignite attention around a global awards ceremony? God forbid the ideas that were left on the creatives’ cutting room floor…
At the time of writing, Will Smith has not long released an apology directed at both his victim Chris Rock and The Oscars. It does what it needs to – offers justification wrapped around his wife’s condition and delivers apologetic sincerity to those he directly impinged.
Similar to his actions, Will Smith’s reputation will undoubtedly take a proverbial slap in the face. There will be a six-month PR assault and, while tainted, his legacy will live on as a formidable Hollywood actor. The Oscars will not condone his actions, while in some guise acknowledging his place as Hollywood royalty. The PR dance will likely be textbook…
So, with the groveling apology now delivered and the reputational repair job underway for Will Smith: was it worth it?
We are living in a world with a global pandemic that continues to fundamentally change people’s lives, a war in Ukraine that followed long-standing conflicts in Yemen, Afghanistan, and many more devastating and dangerous threats. Global icons like Smith hold the ear and attention of so many, on stages that govern and deserve the absolute epitome of success and inspiration. His actions were undoubtedly wrong, on many levels; however, the broader takeaway should be that in those moments, where the world watches, more astute focus needs to be given to the message and legacy you leave and how that inspires towards the greater good of society.
It’s a seismic missed opportunity – and if that’s Big Willie style, I’m not jiggy with it.