Oscars Scandals 2022: Slapgate–Oscar Producer Explains Why Will Smith Was Not Removed from the Show

Oscar Producer Explains Why Will Smith Was Not Removed from the Show

“Chris Rock has made it clear that he does not want to make a bad situation worse,” the show producer said in his first post-Oscars interview on ‘Good Morning America’ on Friday, where he discussed Smith slapping Rock onstage and the evolving fallout.

The producer of the 2022 telecast sat down with Good Morning America for an interview airing five days after the show, where he responded to swirling questions about why Smith wasn’t escorted out of the show following the onstage assault and shared his backstage conversations with Rock and the LAPD.

The producer said that in the live moment he, too, thought Smith smacking Rock was a bit, until Rock came backstage and confirmed that he had really been hit by Smith.

Smith would also go on to win the best actor trophy of the night to a standing ovation.

Executive producer, Founder & CEO of Will Packer Media, Will Packer of 'Rob Riggle: Global Investigator' speaks onstage during the Discovery Channel portion of the Discovery, Inc. TCA Winter Panel 2020 at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 16, 2020 in Pasadena, California.

 

Packer, speaking to T.J. Holmes, confirmed that the joke Rock made about Jada Pinkett Smith that sparked Smith to take the stage (a G.I. Jane jab referencing her shaved head; the actress has alopecia) was unscripted.

“He didn’t tell one of the planned jokes. He was immediately freestyling,” says Packer of Rock. But Packer wasn’t concerned. Even when he saw Smith take the stage, Packer says he, like everyone in the audience, assumed it was a bit.

“Once I saw Will yelling at the stage with such vitriol, my heart dropped. And I just remember thinking, ‘Oh no, oh no. Not like this,’” recalls Packer. “Chris was keeping his head when everyone else was losing theirs. My heart was just in my stomach because of everything about it and what it represented and what it looked like and who was involved. All of that. I’ve never felt so immediately devastated like I did in that moment.”

When Rock walked off stage after the best documentary category presentation (which went to Questlove), Packer confirmed with Rock that Smith had really hit him.

“I just took a punch from Muhammad Ali,” Packer says Rock joked, despite being “very much in shock.”

Packer says that once he confirmed the physical assault, Rock insisted to him that he was fine. The LAPD came into Packer’s office and were “laying out very clearly what Chris’ rights are. They were saying: This is battery. We will go get him. We’re prepared. We’re prepared to get him right now. You can press charges. We’ll arrest him.”

But Packer says Rock was being “very dismissive” of those options, reiterating he was fine. “Even to the point where I said, ‘Rock, let him finish’.”

When they asked if he would like them to take action, Rock said no.

Earlier this week, when beginning disciplinary action against Smith, which is set to take weeks, the Academy issued a statement saying Smith was asked to leave the show following the slap, but that he refused.

The statement didn’t provide details, but acknowledged that the Academy “could have handled the situation differently.”

During Wednesday’s board of governors meeting following the incident, which is now under formal review by the Academy, one board member said that it still was not clear who asked Smith to leave, or what the sequence of events was. Board members are awaiting further clarity.

Speaking on GMA, Packer said that, before the best actor award, Shayla Cowan, who produced the show, told him that “they” were co-about to physically remove Smith. Packer says he had not been a part of those conversations.

“I immediately went to the Academy leadership that was on site and I said, ‘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’ image. His tone was not retaliatory, his tone was not aggressive and angry. And so I was advocating for what Rock wanted at 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. It has been explained to me that there was a conversation that I was not a part of to ask him to voluntarily leave.”

Smith reached out to Packer personally the following morning to apologize, ahead of his public apology to Rock that would come on Instagram. “Smith said, ‘This should have been a gigantic moment for you. And he expressed his embarrassment, and that was the extent of it.”

After criticism aimed at the show for continuing on without seriously addressing the incident, and for the industry audience to give Smith a standing ovation during his subsequent best actor speech, Packer says, “I don’t think these were people applauding anything at all about that moment. And all these people saw their friend at his absolute worst moment and were hoping that they could encourage him and lift him up, and that he would somehow try to make it better.”

When Smith took the stage, he did apologize to the Academy and to his fellow nominees, but he did not offer an apology to Rock.

“I think what many of us were hoping is that he would go on that stage and make it better. It couldn’t be made right in that moment, because of what happened,” he says. “But I think we were hoping that he would stand on that stage and say, ‘What just happened minutes ago was absolutely and completely wrong. Chris Rock, I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.’ That’s what I was hoping for. I felt like he was gonna win, and I was hoping that if he stayed, he would say that.”

Packer says that, because of what Smith did say in his speech, however, Packer regrets Smith staying.

“Now, you don’t have the optics of somebody who committed this act, didn’t nail it in terms of a conciliatory acceptance speech in that moment, who then continued to be in the room.”

Smith is now facing disciplinary action, which may include suspension, expulsion or other sanctions permitted by the Academy’s Bylaws and Standards of Conduct. The next board meeting takes place on April 18.

Rock, meanwhile, performed to his own standing ovation at his first post-Oscars show, where he briefly addressed the slap, saying, “I’m still kind of processing what happened. … So at some point I’ll talk about that shit. And it’ll be serious, and it’ll be funny.”

Packer praised Rock for how he handled the slap, noting on GMA that it felt like the energy of the night was instantly sucked out of the room, but that Rock’s onstage composure saved the show.

“It gave us license, in a way, to continue the show, which is what we were trying to do,” he says of Rock. “He certainly saved what was left of [the show].”