Almost the first voice in Will Smith’s ear after slapping Oscars host Chris Rock for making fun of his wife, Jada, was his publicist. If we assume this wasn’t an elaborate stunt, this week the world may be wondering more than usual what on earth a publicist can do to influence a situation like that, and what Chris Rock and the Academy’s representatives will respectively be advising their charges.
The full extent of Meredith O’Sullivan’s input into Smith’s acceptance speech for his Best Actor award shortly afterwards is unclear, but the overall tactics were much more transparent and surprisingly coherent given the circumstances:
First: mitigation that he was protecting his family from an attack.
Second: positive comparisons with Richard Williams, Subtext: I’m an intense alpha-protector, and may also still be in-character.
Fourth: it’s hard being famous and copping abuse all day.
Fifth: Heightened emotions due to the big occasion (citing Denzel Washington as a supporter of this theory.
Six: Apologise to the academy but don’t lose alpha-male points by apologising to Chris Rock.
It was a pretty clever piece of rhetoric and a decent performance (for a performance it surely was) from Smith, especially given his heightened emotion and limited preparation time, and seems partially do have done the job. Of course, a lot of clear heads still see the slap as a breathtakingly petulant tantrum, and the speech as the Venn diagram of messiah complex and emotional meltdown, both the acts of a man divorced from reality. But discussion Monday morning, backed up by some further quick PR work, such as claims by high-profile intermediaries that the feud between Smith and Rock has already been settled, at least partially reflected Smith’s desire to be seen as a sincere – if perhaps on this occasion overly-intense- hunter-gatherer-style protector.
For more of what last night means for Will Smith, The Oscars, Chris Rock, and Hollywood as a whole, check out the Borkowski Substack…