The Academy seriously considered removing Will Smith from the venue after he slapped presenter Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s appearance. According to an Entertainment Weekly report, split-second decisions were made in the aftermath of the shocking incident. The actor went on to win an Oscar for his performance in King Richard less than an hour later.
Smith slapped Rock on the Oscars stage, after the comedian made an unscripted joke about Pinkett Smith’s health condition. While Smith appeared to laugh at the joke at first, a few seconds later, he walked up to the stage, and in full view of the audience and potentially billions around the world, attacked the comedian. He then walked back to his seat, and screamed expletives at Rock. The moment was censored in the US, but unfolded unedited in several territories across the world, including India.
“You started to realize this is real once Chris, who certainly knows the limits of broadcast standards, said, ‘Will Smith slapped the sh*t out of me,’” ABC’s Rob Mills, who was present in the Oscars trailer, told Variety. “That’s when it became obvious that this was not a joke.”
After a quick decision was made to silence the live feed for US audiences, it was decided that the show must go on. “We had heard that Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry had gone over to Will to kind of see what was going on and offer some counsel,” Mills said. “But you have to remember that you’re putting a live show on. Had this been something that was being pre-taped, we would have stopped down. Things would have been addressed. We would have seen what to do next. But here, you have to remember you’ve got a show to do. Obviously, this was something that was unfortunate, but it was not to a degree that you think, ‘Okay, we need to just stop the entire show.’ And the show just kind of went on.”
Immediately after the ceremony ended, the Academy tweeted that it does not condone violence. Later, in a press statement, it 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.”
While Smith apologised to the Academy and his fellow nominees in his acceptance speech, he issued a public apology to Rock some hours later, in an Instagram post. He described himself as ‘a work in progress’. The Academy’s board of governors came together for an emergency phone call on Monday, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and will convene for a meeting on Wednesday.
Academy member and Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg said on The View that a revocation of Smith’s Oscar is unlikely, but assured everybody that there will be consequences. The EW source said that the Academy ‘serious discussed’ removing Smith from the venue. They added, “You’re also trying to make sure Chris Rock is okay. So basically, to make a very huge decision like that, which either way would’ve had consequences within the show, in a 10-minute span and get everybody together and have that discussion logistically was a nightmare and borderline impossible.”
The show’s producer Will Packer tweeted, “Black people have a defiant spirit of laughter when it comes to dealing with pain because there has been so much of it. I don’t feel the need to elucidate that for you. But I also don’t mind being transparent and say that this was a very painful moment for me. On many levels.”