The drama over Will Smith smacking Chris Rock in the face at the Oscars has continued to spiral for nearly a full week, making a crazy story crazier as new details and more reactions have emerged.
None of the new beats have cast Smith in a better light, but the spotlight has also shone back on the Academy and producer Will Packer for how they handled the incident and its immediate aftermath.
So where do we stand? On Friday Will Smith resigned from the Academy and agreed to accept additional disciplinary measures from the organization, as well as from SAG-AFTRA, but he has granted no interviews to address the situation. Rock, who resumed his stand-up tour in Boston on Wednesday night, said he is still “processing” what happened. And the Academy is facing new questions about what its leadership did and didn’t do just after the incident.
Let’s try to make sense of the Slap Heard Round the World.
Chris Rock’s Ad Lib Prompts a Smack
You’ve heard it and seen it a thousand times in the last week. When Chris Rock took the stage of the Dolby Theatre to present Best Documentary he made an unscripted joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, saying that he’s excited to see her in “G.I. Jane 2.” It was a reference to her close-cropped hairstyle, though an individual close to Rock told TMZ that the comic was unaware of Pinkett Smith’s struggles with alopecia that has led to severe hair loss. Oscars producer Will Packer confirmed in his sit-down with “Good Morning America” that Rock’s joke was an ad-lib that was not listed on the Teleprompter.
Smith walked up to the stage and slapped Rock across the face, then twice shouted at him as he sat back down, “Keep my wife’s name out your f—ing mouth.”
Will Smith Remained to Accept His Oscar
What happened next — in the roughly half hour before Smith accepted his Best Actor Oscar for “King Richard” with a tearful speech that did not include an apology to Rock — remains very much in dispute.
In particular, many have questioned why the Academy allowed Smith to remain in his seat after making physical contact with Rock on stage. The LAPD issued a statement that Rock had declined to press charges against Smith, and Packer said in his “GMA” interview that the police were ready to arrest Smith on Sunday night just after the incident occurred.
On Wednesday, just after an emergency meeting of the Academy’s board of governors, the organization issued a statement that said “Smith was asked to leave the ceremony and refused,” but added that “we also recognize we could have handled the situation differently.”
Packer said he was informed that Academy leadership wanted to have Smith “physically removed” but that he was not involved in that conversation or decision. He then told leadership — namely Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and President David Rubin — that based on his conversation, “Chris Rock doesn’t want that.”
“I said, ‘Rock has made it clear that he does not want to make a bad situation worse.’ That was Chris’ energy. His tone was not retaliatory, it was not angry, so I was advocating what Rock wanted in that time which was not to physically remove Will Smith at that time because as it has now been explained to me, that was the only option at that point.”
Who Asked Smith to Leave Exactly?
Many online were also quick to observe that if the Academy’s statement was true, it’s unclear who asked Smith to leave. While Packer did speak to Smith and to Rock, no one had witnessed a security guard, LAPD or Academy leadership approach Smith to directly ask him to leave.
Multiple reports have mentioned during each Oscars’ commercial breaks that Smith’s longtime publicist Meredith O’Sullivan Wasson was seen talking to her client, and others in the gallery likewise saw Smith speaking with Denzel Washington and Bradley Cooper in the immediate aftermath.
If Academy brass did personally ask Will Smith to leave the Oscars, no one saw it. But several reports, including one in Puck, said that Hudson and Rubin spoke backstage with O’Sullivan Wasson, and asked her to deliver the message that they wanted Smith to leave. When she returned, Puck reported, Smith responded that he didn’t want to exit but would think about the request.
Is asking a star’s publicist to suggest leaving the same as stating your desire that he leave — or physically removing him? TMZ has said that the Academy “lied” about asking him to leave, and suggested there was a split among officials.
The Academy had no comment on the Puck report. A rep for Packer did not immediately reply for a request for comment.
And What About Chris Rock?
There’s also a discrepancy over Chris Rock’s intentions because he’s stayed mum since Sunday. While Packer told Academy leadership “Chris Rock doesn’t want” Smith to be removed, Puck and Deadline also reported that Rock only said he didn’t want Smith arrested and offered no opinion on removing him from the Dolby.
And despite what Diddy claimed on Monday, it’s unclear if Smith and Rock have privately spoken or made amends.
Rock too has returned to his stand-up tour, and his first show in Boston on Wednesday was swarmed with reporters and attendees who all wanted to see how he would react for the first time. And even though he shut down a heckler who shouted “F– Will Smith,” the comedian has otherwise sidestepped the events of Sunday night. The comic opened his first show by acknowledging that he’s “processing” the event and will talk about it at some point, adding that it will “be serious and funny” when he does.
Will Smith Still Must Face the Music
While Smith resigned from the Academy on Friday, it remains unclear if the Academy will seek further disciplinary measures against him. “Change takes time and I am committed to doing the work to ensure that I never again allow violence to overtake reason,” the star said in a statement.
The board of governors said it would need “a few weeks” to go through the appropriate review process. The next board meeting is on April 15.
Many Academy members have called for some censure of Smith, which could have included his expulsion from the Academy or just a suspension. They could further choose not to invite him to next year’s ceremony or keep him from presenting the Best Actress Oscar in 2023, as is usually tradition for the prior year’s Best Actor winner.
It’s not expected however, though it would be within the Academy’s power, to revoke Smith’s Oscar. Only one Oscar has ever been revoked, and not for an issue related to personal conduct.
The Academy could however choose to temporarily or permanently prevent Smith from being eligible for future awards consideration, which would impact the chances of his upcoming film “Emancipation,” a runaway slave drama directed by Antoine Fuqua and that was meant to be released by Apple later this year. It’s unclear what course of action Apple might take with that film, at least until any formal discipline is given.
There’s also another shoe to potentially drop if SAG-AFTRA decides to take any disciplinary action against Smith. The actors union similarly condemned Smith’s actions and said on Monday it was in touch with AMPAS and ABC and “will work to ensure this behavior is appropriately addressed.”
What’s Next for Will Smith’s Career?
The bigger questions though have been about Smith’s career. Agents, managers and producers who spoke to TheWrap feel his days as one of the biggest movie stars in the world, someone who can earn a premium salary or open four quadrant blockbusters, might be over.
Others suspected that the valuation of Smith’s production company Westbrook Inc. will take a severe hit and that his company may have a hard time developing new projects at least until the fall.
Though crisis PR reps who spoke with TheWrap said that Smith could still rehabilitate if Rock publicly forgives him or if Smith takes the time to apologize again in a formal interview. But even if he remains bankable and is able to find work, the Oscars slap has forever changed his reputation.