Actor and Motion Picture Academy member Harry Lennix — whose credits include “Man of Steel” and “Ray” — called on Will Smith to return his Best Actor Oscar to restore the “integrity” of the awards ceremony following his onstage slapping of Chris Rock.
The op-ed in Variety comes just a day after the Academy announced a 10-year ban of the “King Richard” star from the Oscars, which Lennix likened to a “little more than an extended time out for a playground bully,” calling it a “toothless penalty that lays bare the shallowness of Hollywood morals.” The Academy’s decision does not preclude Smith, who earlier resigned from the Academy, from receiving nominations or awards during that decade, but only bans him from attending them.
“Smith needs to express-mail his golden trophy back to the Academy and publicly state something to the effect of: ‘Out of respect for the 94 years of honor conferred upon this award, I do not in good conscience feel worthy of being its custodian,’” Lennix wrote, adding that only the actor can “redeem” the show’s integrity.
Lennix also ripped Smith’s acceptance speech later that evening, saying, “This attempt to explain his actions added to the travesty of this ethical catastrophe. In couching his acceptance speech as somehow submitting to the will of God, Smith abdicated personal accountability.”
“The Blacklist” actor further went on to say that Smith’s “brutality stripped the entire evening of its prestige,” adding that his actions created an “existential crisis” for the awards show. He also admonished the Academy for not immediately ejecting Smith from the audience, for which the organization’s board has since apologized.
He concluded, “The stain on the Motion Picture Academy cannot be easily remediated. The only hope for a justifiable grace must involve Smith voluntarily returning his award for best actor.”
Only five people have been expelled in the history of the Academy, the most notorious being Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski in connection with sexual abuse convictions. In addition, only one Oscar has ever been revoked, but not for an actor, rather for a film — 1969’s Best Documentary Feature due to eligibility requirements. As a result, Weinstein, Cosby and Polanski have retained their numerous accolades, the foremost still holding a total of 81 as a producer and filmmaker.
Nearly two weeks ago, Smith walked onstage and slapped Rock after the comedian joked that Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who has alopecia, should star in a “G.I. Jane” sequel due to her shaved head. Smith then twice shouted from his seat to Rock, “Keep my wife’s name out your f—ing mouth.”