The fallout surrounding the slap that rocked the world continues to develop, as it is now being reported that actor Will Smith was asked to leave the 94th Academy Awards ceremony after assaulting comedian Chris Rock on stage, but refused. According to a statement issued by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, after the incident, Smith was asked by an unspecified party to remove himself from the ceremony but declined to do so. A short time after he walked on stage to slap Rock after the comedian told a joke comparing Smith’s spouse Jada Pinkett-Smith to Demi Moore in the 1997 G.I. Jane, Will Smith was presented with the Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Richard Williams in the biopic film King Richard. Since then, the discussion of the nature, motivations, and consequences of Will Smith’s action has exploded in pop culture.
The statement from the Academy was actually focused on the initiation of disciplinary procedures against Will Smith. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is an honorary, invitation-only organization that exists to promote and advance the art of film; as such, it has its own bylaws and rules, and can censure or even expel members. The Academy’s statement indicated that Smith will undergo a disciplinary hearing for “inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior, and compromising the integrity of the Academy.” There are more specifics in the statement, but the result is essentially that Smith is likely to be suspended or officially reprimanded in some way. To date, only five members of the Academy have ever been expelled in its near-century of existence. It feels unlikely that the discipline against Will Smith will be that severe, but you never know.
After the incident in which he struck Chris Rock, Will Smith returned to his seat and shouted at the comedian several times to “Keep my wife’s name out your f***ing mouth.” After that, fellow Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington and Bradley Cooper comforted him. Smith’s speech upon accepting the award for playing the father of professional tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams heavily referenced the idea of “defending his family,” and he apologized to the Academy for his behavior. It took until Monday evening for Smith to apologize to Rock via a social media post on Instagram. In the meantime, Smith has been heavily criticized by other celebrities who were present, and has become the topic of intense cultural debate.
It is also notable that shortly after the incident and after accepting his award, Will Smith was seen to be celebrating with his family and dancing to his own music at the Oscars after-party. To be fair, he had just won the highest award offered to actors in Hollywood, but it still did raise questions about the sincerity of his apologies. In the midst of all the furor, it has also been noted that Will Smith’s actions interrupted and overshadowed the presentation of the Award for Best Documentary. That award was won by Summer of Soul, and presented to the musician Questlove.