Academy begins ‘formal review’ into Will Smith-Chris Rock incident. Could Best Actor winner face penalty?
Chris Rock declined to file a police report against Will Smith following “the slap seen around the world” at the Oscars Sunday night, but the newly minted King Richard Oscar winner could still face penalty from his peers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as well as the actors union.
The Oscars’ voting body revealed Monday that it was launching “a formal review” of the shocking moment that instantly left some 15 million viewers — and millions more on social media — aghast.
“The Academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show,” a spokesperson for the organization said in a statement. “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.”
Smith was also chastised by his union. “SAG-AFTRA is focused on ensuring our members always work in a safe environment,” the group said in a statement Monday. “Violence or physical abuse in the workplace is never appropriate and the union condemns any such conduct. The incident involving Will Smith and Chris Rock at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable. We have been in contact with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and ABC about this incident and will work to ensure this behavior is appropriately addressed. SAG-AFTRA does not comment on any pending member disciplinary process.”
While presenting the Oscar for Best Documentary, Rock began roasting celebrity audience members including Denzel Washington, Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz. Though Smith was initially seen laughing as Rock joked that Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, was making a sequel to Demi Moore’s 1997 military drama G.I. Jane — Pinkett Smith has lost her hair due to a battle with the autoimmune disorder alopecia — the movie star quickly turned irate, approached the stage and slapped Rock.
Smith then returned to his front-row seat, where he twice yelled, “Keep my wife’s name out your f***ing mouth!” at the stunned presenter.
The Academy and show producers have faced backlash over why Smith wasn’t immediately removed from the ceremony and allowed to accept an Oscar moments later for Best Actor. While Smith have been defending his wife’s honor, and Rock’s jab may have been insensitive, the King Richard star assaulted another person on live television without any immediate repercussions. Many critics have suggested if it were anyone else in the audience (or at least anyone else not super-famous and/or only minutes from winning an Academy Award) who had approached Rock and physically engaged with him, there’s little doubt security would’ve expelled the person.
However, according to Variety, high-ranking members of the Academy discussed ejecting Smith but ultimately decided not to. Smith’s publicist huddled with Academy President David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson in a private room, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Whatever was discussed behind those closed doors may have led to Smith remaining. Perhaps a promise that Smith would apologize? We may never know. Smith, meanwhile, was seen conferring with Denzel Washington (whose counsel Smith later quoted while accepting his Oscar) and Tyler Perry in one corner of the venue.
“This was a real almost billion to one moment where the person involved in this incident was the probable winner for best actor,” explained ABC’s Rob Mills to Variety. “So it’s just a scenario you don’t really know and you just got to keep the show going in the meantime and then obviously, AMPAS will address this afterwards, in the post mortem.”
A mere 15 minutes after the slap Smith was back on stage, where he delivered a tearful speech that included apologies to the Academy and to his fellow nominees, but not to Rock. “The devil comes for you at your highest moment,” Smith said Washington told him.
Smith likely faces some type of penalty from the Academy, with speculation (unconfirmed at this point) the star could receive up to a year’s suspension. If so, that would potentially mean Smith would be unable to present next year’s Best Actress Oscar, as is customary from year to year. (There’s no word yet on why last year’s Best Actress winner, Frances McDormand, was not in attendance to announce Smith as the winner.)
However, there is little chance of the Academy stripping Smith of his Oscar, as some have postulated on social media.
“We’re not going to take that Oscar from him,” Academy Board of Governors member, Oscar winner and television host Whoopi Goldberg said on The View Monday. “There will be consequences I’m sure, but I don’t think that’s what they’re going to do, particularly because Chris said, ‘Listen, I’m not pressing any charges.'”