There are calls for the Academy to strip Will Smith of his Best Actor Oscar after he walked on stage and took a swipe at comedian Chris Rock who was presenting an award on stage and make a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith’s hair.
There was complete bewilderment in the Dolby Theatre in the moment after the assault with took place during the live broadcast with many people initially wondering if the entire punch was part of a stunt.
It took a few moments for the normally unflappable Rock to process. There followed colorful language from Smith which confirmed it wasn’t any kind of joke at all.
Could Will Smith be stripped of his Oscar? The Academy faces pressure to respond after the King Richard star broke the Academy’s Code of Conduct drawn up during Me Too Movement
Less than fifteen minutes later, Smith picked up the biggest accolade of his life as he collected the Best Actor award making a tearful speech in which he attempted to link his outburst to his character in King Richard as someone who ‘defended his family.’
He also took a moment to issue an apology to the Academy and to his fellow nominees, but that may not be enough with calls for him now to be stripped of the award.
‘It’s basically assault. Everyone was just so shocked in the room, it was so uncomfortable’ one executive told the New York Post.
‘I think Will would not want to give his Oscar back, but who knows what will happen now.’
US actor Will Smith slaps US actor Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Oscars
During the commercial break which followed, Will Smith was pulled aside and comforted by Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry appeared to motion for him to brush it off.
Smith could be seen appearing to wipe tears from his eyes as Washington walked him back to his front row seat.
Smith revealed during his acceptance speech Washington had told him ‘that at his “highest moment, that’s when the devil comes for you”.
‘In this business, you got to be able to have people disrespecting you. You’ve got to smile and pretend like that’s okay,’ Smith said.
‘I want to be a vessel for love. I want to say thank you to Venus and Serena. Thank you for entrusting me with your story. That’s what I want to do. I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love, and care and concern.’
Smith’s rep could be seen rushing to be by his side as he sat back down next to his wife.
Producer of the entire Oscar show, Will Packer, was also seen to come by Smith’s table and said something to him.
His publicist continued speaking with him during the final commercial breaks of the Oscar broadcast.
Backstage the academy told gathered journalists not to ask any of the actor present about the slap seen around the word.
Smith won his first Academy Award for his role in King Richard, moments after striking Chris Rock live on television
Director Apatow was appalled by the behavior he witnessed onstage.
‘He could have killed him. That’s pure out of control rage and violence. They’ve heard a million jokes about them in the last three decades. They are not freshman in the world of Hollywood and comedy. He lost his mind.’
But the Academy, in its code of conduct, takes a dim of violence of any kind.
‘Academy membership is a privilege offered to only a select few within the global community of filmmakers,’ AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson wrote to members in 2017.
Hudson highlighted values the Academy valued including ‘fostering supportive environments, and respect for human dignity.’
‘In addition to achieving excellence in the field of motion picture arts and sciences, members must also behave ethically by upholding the Academy’s values of respect for human dignity, inclusion, and a supportive environment that fosters creativity.
Denzel Washington comforts Will Smith during the show at the Oscars following Smith’s assault on Chris Rock
‘There is no place in the Academy for people who abuse their status, power or influence in a manner that violates recognized standards of decency. The Academy is categorically opposed to any form of abuse, harassment or discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, age, religion, or nationality. The Board of Governors believes that these standards are essential to the Academy’s mission and reflective of our values,’ Hudson detailed in a statement as reported by Variety.
Legally, Smith may have got away with it. Late on Sunday night, the LAPD released a statement saying that no police report had yet been filed.
‘LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program. The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report.
‘If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.’
Many users on Twitter stated that they wanted to see Smith stripped of his Best Actor gong
The Academy has stripped Oscars from former winners in the past, although perhaps none quite as high profile as Smith.
In 2017, Greg P. Russell, a sound mixer on 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, was been stripped of his Oscar after he was caught phoning his fellow members from the Academy’s Sound Branch ‘to make them aware of his work on the film.