The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences on Monday condemned the actions of Will Smith during Sunday night’s Oscars and launched an inquiry into his slapping of presenter Chris Rock.
In a statement Monday, the film academy said: “The Academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show. We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law.”
The fallout from Smith’s onstage assault continued Monday, as Hollywood and the public continued to wrestle with a moment that stunned the Dolby Theatre crowd and viewers at home, and may have passed all others — even that gold-standard flub, EnvelopeGate — in Academy Awards infamy.
Smith stunned the Dolby Theatre crowd and viewers at home when he took the stage during Rock’s remarks after the comedian made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, Smith’s wife. Rock said, “Jada, I love you. ‘G.I. Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it.”
The joke touched a nerve. Pinkett Smith, whose head is shaved, has spoken publicly about her alopecia diagnosis. Smith strode on stage and slapped Rock across the face. Back in his seat, Smith twice shouted for Rock to “get my wife’s name out your (expletive) mouth.” His words echoed clearly throughout the Dolby, though ABC cut the audio for about 15 seconds. Within an hour, Smith won best actor. During his acceptance speech, Smith apologized to the academy.
After the show Sunday night, the academy posted a statement condemning violence. The Los Angeles Police Department said Sunday it was aware of the incident but not pursuing an investigation because the person involved declined to file a police report.
Some academy members, like writer-producer Marshall Herskovitz, called for the academy to take disciplinary action against Smith.
“He disgraced our entire community tonight,” wrote Herskovitz on Twitter.
Whoopi Goldberg, a member of the Academy’s board of governors, said Monday on “The View”: “We’re not going to take that Oscar from him. There will be consequences, I’m sure.”
A sense of disbelief hung in the air at the Dolby Theatre after Smith’s assault, and it didn’t dissipate Monday. Not only was it a hard-to-fathom break with decorum on live national television — an incident so dramatic, even movie-like, that many initially assumed it was a staged bit — it seemed wildly out of character for one of Hollywood’s most relentlessly upbeat stars.
All of this less than an hour before Smith reached possibly the climactic moment of his career, winning his first Oscar, for best actor.
“In a way, I feel bad for Will Smith, too, because I think he let his emotions get the better of him, and this should have been one of the great nights of his life,” said former Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel on Bill Simmons’ podcast. “And now it’s not. Was there anyone who didn’t like Will Smith an hour ago in the world? Like no one, right? Now he doesn’t have a single comedian friend — that’s for sure.”
Some questioned whether Smith should have been allowed to continue to sit front and center after smacking Rock. Several stars rushed to counsel and calm Smith, including Denzel Washington, Bradley Cooper and Tyler Perry. But the timing was also awkward because the best actor category was due up soon after, and Smith had long been considered a lock for the award.
“I know we’re all still processing, but the way casual violence was normalized tonight by a collective national audience will have consequences that we can’t even fathom in the moment,” wrote Janai Nelson, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, on Twitter.
Representatives for Smith didn’t immediately return messages Monday.
The joke that provoked Smith was not part of Rock’s routine during the rehearsals leading up to the show, according to two sources close to production who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Rock had joked about Pinkett Smith before. He hosted the 2016 Oscars, when some were boycotting the ceremony over the #OscarsSoWhite group of nominees, including the Smiths. Said Rock: “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”
In the press room backstage, where winners take a few questions from the media, the academy tried to stifle questions about the incident, at one point stopping Jessica Chastain from talking about it.
But that didn’t prevent the moment from overwhelming talk at the Oscar afterparties and beyond. Some came to Smith’s defence, including Tiffany Haddish, who co-starred with Pinkett Smith in “Girls Trip.”
“Maybe the world might not like how it went down, but for me, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen because it made me believe that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives,” Haddish told People magazine.
Smith, meanwhile, merrily posed for photographs with his family outside the Vanity Fair party. Inside, cell phone videos captured him dancing to “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” while clutching his Oscar. Their son Jaden tweeted: “And That’s How We Do It.” On Instagram, Smith posted: “Me ’n Jada Pinkett Smith got all dressed up to choose chaos.”
The drama overshadowed some historical wins at an Oscars. The deaf family drama “CODA” became the first film with a largely deaf cast to win best picture. For the first time, a streaming service, Apple TV+, took Hollywood’s top honour, signalling a profound shift in Hollywood and in moviegoing. Ariana DeBose of “West Side Story” became the first Afro-Latina and the first openly LGBTQ actor to win best supporting actress.
But as stunning as Smith’s slap was, it wasn’t shocking that such a pivotal moment in the actor’s life would play out in the public eye. Particularly in recent years, Smith has been among the most candid of stars. While Pinkett Smith’s Facebook series “Red Table Talk” has been a platform for airing family drama, Smith has chronicled his own journey in the YouTube series “The Best Shape in My Life,” which included one episode documenting Smith discussing his regrets as a parent with his children.
Smith also penned, with personal-growth author Mark Manson, the memoir “Will,” published earlier this year. (It rocketed up Amazon sales rankings Monday to No. 32.) In it, he described how he was moulded by his loving but hard-drinking and militaristic father. In one chapter, he recalls as a 9-year-old seeing him hit his mother. Guilt at not protecting his mother, Smith wrote, left with complicated feelings that he connects with fueling his own rise in show business. When his father was elderly and confined to a wheelchair, Smith confessed feeling an impulse to push him down a staircase.
“My personal journey into the depths of the joys and traumas of my past are definitely helping me to expand and build out a greater emotional toolbox that will allow me to portray more complex characters,” Smith said last fall in an interview with The Associated Press.
For Smith, playing Richard Williams, father to Venus and Serena, in “King Richard” brought together all of these deep-rooted emotions — and it won him the Oscar. It also might have compelled his actions Sunday.
“Art imitates life,” Smith said accepting the award. “I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams.”