The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday that Will Smith was asked to leave the Oscars ceremony after he slapped Chris Rock, but Smith refused.
The revelation came after the academy’s board of governors met to initiate “proceedings against Mr. Smith for violations of the Academy’s Standards of Conduct, including inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior, and compromising the integrity of the Academy.”
During the ceremony on Sunday, Rock made a joke at the expense of Jada Pinkett Smith, Smith’s wife. Smith strode onto the stage, struck Rock across the face and returned to his front-row seat, where he twice yelled, “Keep my wife’s name out your f---ing mouth.”
Later in the ceremony, he accepted the best-actor award for his role in “King Richard” and gave a teary speech in which he apologized to the academy and his fellow nominees, but not Rock. The next day, he posted an Instagram apology that addressed the comedian. Rock has not spoken publicly about the event.
Questions abounded as to why the academy did not remove Smith from the ceremony in the chaotic moments following the incident. One attendee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, told The Washington Post on Monday that during a voice-over announcing the nominees for best documentary feature — the award Rock was onstage to give — it appeared that the stand-up comedian began to approach Smith in the audience. Denzel Washington also rose to approach Smith, and Rock returned to his spot onstage. Rock then announced the winner was Questlove’s “Summer of Soul,” though at that point, it seemed as though few were paying attention.
As The Post previously reported, “Videos and reports from inside the theater also show that during the commercial break right after the slap, Washington and Tyler Perry took Smith aside to speak with him; Washington was later seen talking to Pinkett Smith as well. Will Smith’s publicist, Meredith O’Sullivan Wasson, also talked to the actor when the show went to commercial.”
The academy said Wednesday it is providing Smith with “at least 15 days’ notice of a vote regarding his violations and sanctions, and the opportunity to be heard beforehand by means of a written response.” When the board meets again, it “may take any disciplinary action, which may include suspension, expulsion, or other sanctions.”
It also called Smith’s actions a “deeply shocking, traumatic event to witness in-person and on television.”
“Mr. Rock, we apologize to you for what you experienced on our stage and thank you for your resilience in that moment,” the statement continued. “We also apologize to our nominees, guests and viewers for what transpired during what should have been a celebratory event.”
Many in the industry have called for the academy to take swift — and harsh — actions against Smith. Others, such as academy member and film producer Marshall Herskovitz, originally felt outraged but were somewhat placated by Smith’s apology.
“I think he acknowledged the significance of the event, and that changes the way I look at it,” Herskovitz said. “I was quite outraged that evening, but he’s a guy I have a lot of respect for. He’s been an incredible sort of positive force in the industry and incredibly professional his whole life. … I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by punishing at this point.”
Some wondered whether the board will revoke Smith’s Oscar — his first after three nominations — but Matt Belloni, the former editor of the Hollywood Reporter and founder-partner of Puck, doesn’t think the academy will resort to such drastic measures. “I think the feeling is that the Oscar is for the work and he earned the Oscar, but the punishment will be for his behavior,” said Belloni, who was in the audience Sunday,
“I think it’s underplayed how embarrassing this is for many academy members,” he said. “This is their identity. This is their business. This is their craft.”
Emily Yahr contributed to this report.