Academy asked Will Smith to leave Oscars after Chris Rock slap but he refused

The organization is considering whether or not to expel the Best Actor winner, and will announce its decision on April 18

The moment when Will Smith struck Chris Rock.
The moment when Will Smith struck Chris Rock.BRIAN SNYDER (REUTERS)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has revealed that it asked Will Smith to leave Sunday’s Oscars ceremony, after he slapped Chris Rock on the stage after the comedian made a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. In a statement, the Academy did not give any details about who made the request or how, but it did say that Smith refused to leave his seat.

Shortly after the incident, which was seen on live television by millions of viewers, Smith took to the stage to accept his Best Actor Oscar for his role in King Richard. He made a tearful speech, and was received by the audience with a mix of shock and a standing ovation.

Three days after the ceremony, the Academy is starting to shake off the controversy of an incident that has rocked the very foundations of the film industry in Los Angeles, and has also begun “disciplinary proceedings” against Smith for his behavior.

“Things unfolded in a way we could not have anticipated,” the powerful organization said in a statement that was released after a Board of Governors meeting. “While we would like to clarify that Mr Smith was asked to leave the ceremony and refused, we also recognize we could have handled the situation differently.”

The statement added that at its next board meeting on April 18, “the Academy may take any disciplinary action, which may include suspension, expulsion, or other sanctions permitted by the Bylaws and Standards of Conduct.”

Smith, who made the longest speech of the night during which he himself called into question whether he would be invited back, has been “provided 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,” the statement continued.

Mr Rock, we apologize to you for what you experienced on our stage and thank you for your resilience in that moment
Academy statement

The Board of Governors, which is the voice of nearly 10,000 motion picture professionals, has toughened its stance after initially keeping quiet after Sunday night, making only a brief statement in which it condemned violence. “The Academy does not condone violence of any form. Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world,” the Academy said on Monday.

Wednesday’s statement, however, concluded with these sentences: “Mr Smith’s actions at the 94th Oscars were 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. We also apologize to our nominees, guests and viewers for what transpired during what should have been a celebratory event.” The statement also said that the incident compromised the “integrity” of the Academy.

Comedian and actress Wanda Sykes, one of the three presenters at the ceremony on Sunday, spoke about the incident during an interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show this week. After striking Rock, Smith returned to his seat and twice yelled at Rock: “Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth.” “It was sickening,” Sykes tolde DeGeneres about the incident. “I felt physically ill and I’m still a little traumatized by it.” Sykes explained that she had missed the actual moment of violence because she was in the middle of a costume change, and criticized the fact that Smith had not left the event. “For them to let him stay in that room and enjoy the rest of the show and accept his award… I was like, ‘How gross is this?’” she said. “This is just the wrong message. You assault somebody, you get escorted out of the building, and that’s it.”

Sykes went on to explain that Rock apologized to her at a subsequent Oscar party, saying “It was supposed to be your night,” in reference to Sykes and her co-presenters, Amy Schumer and Regina Hall.

“Triggered and traumatized”

Schumer posted a message on Instagram about the incident, saying she was “triggered and traumatized” and “waiting for this sickening feeling to go away from what we all witnessed.” The message has since been deleted.

For his part, Will Smith did not apologize to Rock during his acceptance speech, and he was later seen laughing and dancing at the Vanity Fair post-Oscars party. On Tuesday, the actor took to social media to ask for forgiveness. “My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. […] I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong,” the actor posted on the social network.

The statement from the Academy followed a letter sent on Tuesday night by its president, David Rubin, to all of its members. This was the first explicit condemnation of Smith’s actions, and promised “appropriate action” would be taken, but that this could “take a few weeks.” If Smith is expelled from the Academy, it would be the first action of its kind since that of cinematographer Adam Kimmel, who was removed from the organization in 2021 when it emerged that he had had a sexual relationship with an underage girl.

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