Will Smith may have a long road ahead in terms of rehabilitating his image.
In a nearly-six minute video posted online July 29, the King Richard star, 53, publicly apologized to Chris Rock, 57, and expressed remorse for slapping him on stage at the Oscars in March. But crisis management PR expert Gary Rosen says the actor can’t expect Hollywood to roll out the red carpet for his return just yet.
The entertainment industry “is very forgiving. Everybody gets a comeback or at least a try at a comeback,” says Rosen. “But this is not going to happen overnight. He needs to rebuild trust. I don’t think that’s happened yet.”
Though Rosen says the video apology was a step in the right direction, he thinks the mea culpa was too “orchestrated,” he continues. “When you don’t have someone interviewing you and there’s no give and take, it comes across as less authentic.”
Agreeing to a sit-down has its risks, too. “I always think of Prince Andrew, which was the ultimate train wreck,” Rosen says of the scandal-plagued royal’s widely-panned 2019 BBC interview about his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the late billionaire accused of sexual assault.
Rosen thinks Smith may have been testing the waters to gauge public reaction to the apology before making any further moves: “My feeling is this was…[the] strategy: ‘Let’s do this. Let’s see how it plays. Let’s take a beat and we’ll go from there.’”
So far, responses have been mixed. Fans and celebrity friends of Smith’s have praised the Ali actor on his social media—Jamie Foxx, for one, wrote, “your true fans have never stopped loving you!”—while others found Smith’s video grating. “I’m so sick of Will Smith being given air time. He assaulted another,” fumed one Twitter user.
One person who hasn’t directly weighed in: Rock himself. Though the comedian has joked about the controversy in his stand-up shows recently, he has not addressed whether or not he accepts the apology. “Until that happens, most people will likely raise their eyebrows when Will Smith’s name is mentioned,” says Jeff Bock, a senior media analyst at Exhibitor Relations Company.
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Like Rosen, he believes Smith’s future in Hollywood is a big question mark. “As far as getting back into the swing of things for Smith, we won’t really know how the public will react until he releases something new,” he continues. Some of Smith’s projects were reportedly delayed in the wake of the slap.
As PEOPLE previously reported, Smith is eager to put the incident in the past. He has been in therapy and wanted to work on himself before speaking out, according to a source: “He’s deeply remorseful, he is still doing a lot of work and he’s also human and made a mistake.”