Will Smith was “asked to leave” the Oscars after slapping Chris Rock onstage but wouldn’t budge, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said Wednesday.
The academy made the disclosure as part of a statement announcing that it is initiating “disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Smith for violations of the Academy’s Standards of Conduct” for slapping Rock across the face during the Oscars on Sunday night.
“Things unfolded in a way we could not have anticipated,” the statement read. “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.”
Smith stayed in the audience after the incident and went on to win Best Actor 40 minutes later, getting an ovation from the crowd and giving a teary speech in which he told the academy and the other nominees that he was sorry but did not apologize to Rock.
The academy, which oversees the Oscars, on Wednesday said Smith’s violations included “inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior, and compromising the integrity of the Academy.”
Smith walked onstage and struck Rock during Sunday night’s Oscars telecast after the comedian made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s buzz cut. Pinkett Smith, who is married to Smith, has said publicly she wears the short hairdo because she suffers from alopecia, an autoimmune condition that causes hair loss.
When he returned to his seat, Smith yelled at Rock to “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”
Rock, who has not yet commented on the confrontation, declined to press charges. Smith later apologized on social media.
“Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive,” Smith posted to Instagram. “My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable.”
The backlash soon began. Opinion was largely split down the middle, with a small majority of the American public siding with Smith, according to one poll. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter after the ceremony, multiple members of the academy said they felt Smith’s membership should be suspended. None thought Smith should be invited back in 2023 to present the Best Actress award, an honor traditionally given to the past year’s Best Actor winner.
Roger Ross Williams, the academy’s documentary branch governor, told THR: “I’m really upset. I was in tears after what happened. It reinforces stereotypes about Black people, and it just hurts me because this is what some people want to see. Work it out someplace else, not on the stage.”
Actors branch member Rutanya Alda said she wished she hadn’t cast her vote for Smith to win best actor.
“Someone else should have accepted his award,” she told the outlet. “Why did he get a pass?”
Actress and comedian Tiffany Haddish viewed the incident quite differently.
“When I saw a Black man stand up for his wife, that meant so much to me,” she told Entertainment Weekly.
Others said Smith’s outrage was understandable, though not behavior to emulate.
And former Academy President Sid Ganis said the entire situation is for Smith and Rock to work out between themselves, not the academy or anyone else.
The two academy executives who told Smith to leave were identified by TMZ as CEO Dawn Hudson and President David Rubin.
Some have called for Smith’s Oscar to be rescinded. However, as THR noted, even Harvey Weinstein and Roman Polanski, both of whom have been convicted of serious sex crimes, were not forced to give back their awards.
Smith will now have a period of time to respond. At the next board meeting, which is set for 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,” the statement said.