LOS ANGELES — The day after slapping Chris Rock on the Oscars stage and upending the 94th Academy Awards, Will Smith issued an apology to the comedian, to the academy and to viewers at home, saying he was “out of line” and that his actions are “not indicative of the man I want to be.”
The fallout from Smith’s actions during Sunday’s ceremony continued Monday as Hollywood and the public continued to wrestle with a moment that stunned the Dolby Theatre crowd and viewers at home. Smith was condemned by Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for striking Rock. Smith made jokes about Jada Pinkett Smith and the Academy said that it would open an inquiry.
Later in the day, Smith gave a stronger apology than he did in his best actor acceptance speech, which notably hadn’t included an apology to Rock.
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“Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive,” said Smith in a statement issued by his publicist and posted on Instagram. “My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally. Chris, I apologize publicly. Chris, I was not in line with the rules and was incorrect. My actions are embarrassing and they do not reflect the man I want. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”
Smith, 53, offered his apologies for the incident to the producers, the viewers, and Williams families. Smith was honored Sunday for his role as Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, in “King Richard.”
“I am a work in progress,” added Smith.
After calling a board of governors meeting Monday to discuss the incident, the film academy said that it review Smith’s actions and “will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law.” The Los Angeles Police Department said Sunday it was aware of the incident but was not pursuing an investigation because the person involved declined to file a police report.
Smith shocked the Dolby Theatre crowd and viewers at home when he took the stage after Rock, appearing as a presenter, joked: “Jada, I love you. ‘G.I. Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it.”
This joke struck a chord. Pinkett Smith’s head was shaved and she has publicly discussed her alopecia. Smith marched onstage and ran across Rock’s face. Back in his seat, Smith twice shouted for Rock to “get my wife’s name out your (expletive) mouth.” His words echoed clearly throughout the Dolby, though broadcaster ABC cut the audio for about 15 seconds. Smith was awarded best actor within an hour and received a standing ovation. Smith also spoke for five minutes about his family during his acceptance speech. The academy also received his apology.
Rock’s joke wasn’t part of his routine during the rehearsals leading up to the show, according to two sources close to production who were not authorized to speak publicly.
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Rock was known to have made fun of Pinkett Smith previously. When some protested the #OscarsSoWhite list of nominees and boycotted the Oscars 2016, Rock hosted them. Said Rock then: “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”
Smith’s actions rattled a pivotal Oscar ceremony. Until that moment, producer Will Packer had steered an orderly and lighthearted telecast that the academy hoped would restore the Academy Awards following last year’s record-low ratings. Sunday’s ceremony reached an estimated 15.36 million viewers, according to preliminary Nielsen company numbers Monday. It was still second in terms of Oscars viewings, despite being a notable improvement from the 9.85 million who watched it last year.
Marshall Herskovitz (writer-producer) was one of the members who called on Smith to be disciplined.
Will Smith punches Chris Rock during the show at Ovation Hollywood’s 94th Academy Awards, Sunday, Mar. 27, 2022.
Myung Chun/ Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
“He disgraced our entire community tonight,” wrote Herskovitz on Twitter.
Whoopi Goldberg, a member of the Academy’s board of governors, said Monday on “The View”: “We’re not going to take that Oscar from him. There will be consequences, I’m sure.”
Screen Actors Guild contributed as well. The film, television and radio union called the incident “unacceptable.” SAG said that it had been in contact with the academy and ABC, and it doesn’t comment on the guild’s own disciplinary process.
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A sense of disbelief hung in the air at the Dolby Theatre after Smith’s assault. Not only was it a hard-to-fathom break with decorum on live national television — an incident so dramatic, even movie-like, that many initially assumed it was a staged bit — it seemed wildly out of character for one of Hollywood’s most relentlessly upbeat stars. Smith was just an hour away from the moment that would lead to his most important career achievement, his Oscar nomination for best actor.
“In a way, I feel bad for Will Smith, too, because I think he let his emotions get the better of him, and this should have been one of the great nights of his life,” said former Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel on Bill Simmons’ podcast. “And now it’s not. Was there anyone who didn’t like Will Smith an hour ago in the world? Right? Now he doesn’t have a single comedian friend — that’s for sure.”
Bradley Cooper offers comfort to Will Smith as he performs at the 94th Academy Awards held at Ovation Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre. 27, 2022.
Myung Chun/ Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Some wondered whether Smith should be allowed to keep his seat at the center of attention after Rock smashed. The stars Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry rushed in to help Smith calm down. It was extremely awkward timing because Smith, who had been long thought to be a lock for it, was up in the best actor category.
“I know we’re all still processing, but the way casual violence was normalized tonight by a collective national audience will have consequences that we can’t even fathom in the moment,” wrote Janai Nelson, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, on Twitter.
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Drama trumped some historic Oscars wins. The deaf family drama “CODA” became the first film with a largely deaf cast to win best picture. For the first time, a streaming service, Apple TV+, took Hollywood’s top honor, signaling a profound shift in Hollywood and in moviegoing. Wins for Ariana DeBose of “West Side Story,” Troy Kotsur of “CODA” and Jane Campion, director of “The Power of the Dog,” all had made history.
Others came to Smith’s defense, including Tiffany Haddish, who co-starred with Pinkett Smith in “Girls Trip.”
“Maybe the world might not like how it went down, but for me, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen because it made me believe that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives,” Haddish told People magazine.
Smith got photographs taken with his family after the show. Inside, cell phone videos captured him dancing to “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” while clutching his Oscar. Their son Jaden tweeted: “And That’s How We Do It.” On Instagram, Smith posted: “Me ’n Jada Pinkett Smith got all dressed up to choose chaos.”
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