Four months after the slap seen around the world, Will Smith may be feeling the pain more than Chris Rock.
Data provided exclusively to Variety Intelligence Platform from Q Scores, the longtime industry standard for quantifying celebrities’ star power and appeal, indicates Smith’s numbers tanked months after the March 27 Academy Awards ceremony, when the actor smacked presenter Chris Rock on live TV.
Before the incident, Smith consistently ranked among the country’s top 5 or 10 most positively rated actors in Q Scores’ semiannual surveys (fielded every January and July), which poll 1,800 U.S. consumers ages 6 and up. This placed him alongside such beloved figures as Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, according to Henry Schafer, executive VP of Q Scores.
But between Q Scores’ January survey, conducted before the Oscars, and its July polling, the first following the slap, Smith’s positive Q Score plummeted from a stellar 39 to 24, which Schafer characterized as “a very significant and precipitous decline.” (A positive Q Score of 24 means 24 percent of those surveyed who know of Smith count him as one of their favorite personalities.)
At the same time, Smith’s negative rating (those surveyed whose opinion of him was “fair” or “poor”) more than doubled, from less than 10 to 26. The average negative Q Score, according to Schafer, is about 16 or 17.
Nor was the fallout limited to one Smith: Jada Pinkett Smith, the actor’s wife, also saw significant damage to her public image in recent months. Her positive score, already low at 13, fell to 6, and her negative score jumped from 29 to 44.
In contrast, Rock saw no effect. Between January and July, his positive and negative scores remained at 20 and 14, respectively. However, his ranking on a separate Q Scores scale, one gauging a celebrity’s level of public awareness, leaped from 66 to 84.
Smith’s updated numbers, showing consumer sentiment months after the incident, confirm that one of Hollywood’s most likable performers has seriously damaged his reputation — and potentially his career — as a result of his Oscar outburst. More than four months later, the impact of the slap still lingers — a point unlikely to be missed by studios or marketers weighing future collaboration with Smith, whose once thriving career has been effectively put on hold since the assault.
Still, Smith’s decline is “not as bad as I’ve seen for other celebrities who have experienced antisocial events,” Schafer says, citing Tiger Woods’ 2009 infidelity scandal as an example. (Ironically, he adds, Johnny Depp emerged from recent allegations of domestic abuse and April-to-June defamation trial “unscathed,” with a positive score of 35.)
Smith’s updated score varied across demographic groups, with both women and non-Black respondents rating him more negatively than men and Black respondents. Among the latter, Smith’s negative score rose just 9 points, from 7 to 16 — again, the average level for a negative Q Score. However, the size of his positive drop-off was essentially the same for both groups: from 49 to 35 among Black respondents and 35 to 22 with non-Black respondents.
As Q Scores are only measured twice a year, it’s difficult to say how fast opinion on Smith fell or how much it may have rebounded since the slap. The actor has apologized for his behavior in the aftermath: He issued a written statement on social media the day after the Oscars, apologizing to Rock, the Academy and “all the attendees and everyone watching around the world,” and he resigned from his Academy membership less than a week later. Afterward, the Academy banned Smith from the Oscars for a period of 10 years; he responded with a statement saying, “I accept and respect the Academy’s decision.”
From there, Smith was publicly silent until late last month, when he posted another apology in the form of a YouTube video. In the five-minute clip, Smith again apologized to Rock, as well as Rock’s mother and brother, and to Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, who won the Oscar for Best Documentary moments after the slap.
“There is no part of me that thinks that was the right way to behave in that moment,” Smith says in the video. “There’s no part of me that thinks that’s the optimal way to handle a feeling of disrespect or insults.”
It remains to be seen whether the apology video will mitigate the damage, but it’s likely the road to recovery will not be a swift one, as it takes on average about three years for celebrities' Q Scores to rebound from scandal. Still, Schafer says, “A lot depends on personality and how they pursue the resurrection of their image.”
Much, then, could depend on how the actor is positioned in the promotion of “Emancipation,” his next film, which is currently in post-production and yet to be officially dated for release by distributor Apple.
This analysis is the latest in a series for Variety Intelligence Platform subscribers that dissects what no textbook devoted to crisis PR would be complete without: an assessment of how Will Smith has tried to repair his career in the wake of his Oscars fiasco. In the immediate aftermath of the awards show, VIP+ urged him to do more than just offer a written mea culpa. He didn’t face the challenge of Chris Rock, who was counseled to turn the slap into the defining moment of his own career. Then there was the matter of how Apple should handle “Emancipation,” which was scheduled to be Smith’s next film release. We also addressed the price Smith would pay if he waited too long to break his silence. But now that he finally has, there are lessons to be learned from a crisis-PR standpoint, and it just might be that he has botched his own image rehab.
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