Could the Academy Actually Expel Will Smith Over Oscars Slap?

AMPAS “standards of conduct” give the organization broad leeway in potential disciplinary action

After an emergency call on Monday to discuss how to deal with Will Smith’s slap of Chris Rock during the Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that it would launch a “formal review” of the incident that will determine if the newly minted Best Actor winner will receive any discipline.

“The Academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show,” 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.”

The star also faces possible consequences from SAG-AFTRA, the actors union that represents both Smith and Rock, which issued a statement Monday condemning all “violence or physical abuse in the workplace” and hinting at a future “disciplinary process.”

According to the Academy’s Standards of Conduct, adopted four years ago in response to the #MeToo movement and the expulsion of Harvey Weinstein over sexual assault charges, disciplinary action against Smith could range from a private reprimand to explusion from the Academy and the revocation of the Best Oscar he won for “King Richard.”

The standards outline what is deemed as “unacceptable conduct” for members — including “physical contact that is uninvited” — and lists the potential discipline Smith could face for this unprecedented incident in Oscars history.

Smith’s onstage attack on Rock after the comedian made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, could fall under several provisions of the Rules of Conduct, from the ban on uninvited physical contact to the broader decree, “Members should act in a manner consistent with the good reputation of the Academy.”

Academy rules give the Board of Governors broad leeway in the penalties they can levy, although there’s no precedent for revoking an Oscar because of personal conduct. Only one Oscar has been revoked, in 1969, when “Young Americans” won the award for Best Documentary Feature but was then found to have been exhibited publicly in October 1967, which made it ineligible to receive an award for the films of 1968. Three weeks after the Oscar ceremony, the award was taken away from “Young Americans” and given to the second-place film, “Journey Into Self.”

On Sunday night, Academy governor Whoopi Goldberg voiced her opinion that Smith would not lose his Oscar over the slapping incident, which he followed with a teary acceptance speech in which he apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees — but not to Rock.

The Academy’s strongest penalty is expulsion, which has been used only rarely. Prior to Weinstein’s ousting, the only other expulsion was actor Carmine Caridi in 2004 after he lent VHS screeners to a friend who was caught by the FBI using the screeners to make pirated copies of films. After Weinstein, Roman Polanski and Bill Cosby were also expelled in 2018 in part, according to the Academy, because they had been convicted of sexual abuse charges that violated “ethical standards that require members to uphold the Academy’s values of respect for human dignity.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum is a “reprimand” that could be issued either privately or publicly. In between are disciplinary actions that could shape next year’s Oscars, most notably “temporary or permanent loss of privileges to attend or participate in Academy events” and “temporary or permanent loss of eligibility to receive or hold Academy awards or honors.”

This means that the Academy could bar Smith from attending next year’s Oscars. It’s tradition for the actors who win Oscars to return to present the following year’s acting awards, though “Manchester by the Sea” Oscar winner Casey Affleck withdrew from presenting in 2018 after sexual harassment accusations against him came to light (lawsuits from two women were settled out of court). When Affleck pulled out, the Academy said in a statement that it “appreciates the decision to keep the focus on the show.”

While Smith’s case is different, that imperative to avoid distractions could lead Smith to not show up next year to open an envelope, whether of his own volition or via Academy discipline.

Chris Rock and Will Smith are seen onstage during the 94th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 27, 2022 (Getty Images)
Chris Rock and Will Smith are seen onstage during the 94th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 27, 2022 (Getty Images)

The Academy also has the option of making Smith ineligible for future Oscar nominations for a “temporary or permanent” period. The actor has a potential awards-contending role in “Emancipation,” an Antoine Fuqua-directed thriller in which Smith plays a Louisiana slave who escapes the clutches of runaway hunters and joins the Union Army during the Civil War. Smith’s presence in the pitch for “Emancipation” led to a bidding war for the project at Cannes that Apple won two years ago.

While some disciplinary action seems likely once the AMPAS review is completed, most insiders close to the Academy think a public reprimand and/or temporary suspension is the likeliest option — rather than expulsion, the loss of eligibility for a future nomination or the stripping of his most recent award.

Here is the section of the Standards of Conduct that covers potential discipline:

Sanctions for Violations 

The Academy may take any disciplinary action permitted by the Academy’s Bylaws, up to and including suspension of membership or expulsion from membership. Sanctions issued under this policy that are less severe than suspension or expulsion of membership may include private reprimand, public reprimand, temporary or permanent loss of privileges to attend and participate in Academy events or activities, temporary or permanent loss of eligibility to receive or hold or revocation of Academy awards or honors, temporary or permanent loss of eligibility to hold Academy service and volunteer roles, or other sanctions that the Academy in its sole discretion may deem appropriate. The Academy will inform the claimant of the outcome of the matter except with respect to a private reprimand. Also except with respect to a private reprimand, the Academy may make public any finding of a violation and sanctions issued. 

The Board of Governors retains its independent duty and authority as outlined in the bylaws to address and take action on any matter, whether submitted by the process outlined above or not, related to a member’s status and to enforce the Academy’s Standards of Conduct.