Oscars 2022: How to Deal with Will Smith’s Slap? Governors, Members Weigh In

How to Deal with Will Smith’ Slap? Governors, Members Weigh In

Shock turns to handwringing over how the Oscars’ leader should handle Will Smith hitting Chris Rock — and whether the ‘King Richard’ star will face any public fallout over the act of violence

 

Days after the 94th Oscars, Will Smith’s onstage physical assault on Chris Rock over a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head remains to many surreal.

But the headache it poses for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is very real.

With the general public and Academy members alike clamoring for the Academy to take action beyond saying that it does not “condone violence,” as it did in an initial statement March 28, the officers of the organization’s board of governors had an emergency meeting a day later, after which they released a statement saying: “The Academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith” and has “started a formal review around the incident.” Shortly thereafter, the full board was asked to convene March 30.

Jim Carrey
Will Smith accepts the Oscar® for Actor in a Leading Role during the live ABC telecast of the 94th Oscars® at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood in Los Angeles, CA, on Sunday, March 27, 2022.

 

Documentary branch governor Roger Ross Williams — who is Black and who infamously experienced someone, an estranged producer, aggressively entering his personal space on the Oscars stage in 2010 as he accepted the best documentary short prize — said: “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.”

The day after the Oscars, producers branch governor Lynette Howell Taylor, who co-produced the ceremony in 2020, said, “I woke up so bummed this morning. I was like, ‘Oh, God, did that all really happen?’ ” She continued, “Everyone’s going to have to assess the situation. You know, it’s not going to end today. Everyone’s going to collect themselves, and it’s going to go through an official process.”

Rank-and-file members have their own views about what should have happened that night and what should happen moving forward.

Sid Ganis, a former Academy president, said he feels it is not the board’s place to sanction Smith. “I think those are two men who had a real disagreement and it’s up to them, not to the Academy, not to any of us,” he argued.

Added another member: “No matter how one feels about the joke Chris Rock told, or Will Smith’s right to ‘defend his wife,’ it was a violent assault on national TV and should not go unpunished. When a comedian or really anyone says something you don’t like, it’s not OK to hit them.”

What might the Academy do to Smith?

Some members feel that the organization should at the very least suspend his membership, citing the Standards of Conduct that the Academy implemented eight weeks after Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misdeeds were exposed.

Almost none felt he should be back at the ceremony next year to carry out the ceremonial tradition whereby the previous year’s best actor presents the best actress award.

Some in the public have called for is the revocation of Smith’s best actor Oscar, but that almost certainly will not happen, given that even Weinstein and Roman Polanski have not had theirs rescinded.

This is not least because the Academy has no mechanism to actually repossess an Oscar.

Says an Academy member: “You can’t take the Oscar away. That’s not fair. But do you drop his membership? Maybe. Do you tell him he can’t present on next year’s show? Maybe. Does he care whether or not he’s presenting on the show? I doubt it.”

Smith seemed to care in his acceptance speech when he said, chuckling through tears, that he hopes the Academy will invite him back.

Fallout for Will Smith could go beyond the Academy.

In January, Candle Media — the entertainment holding company led by former Disney execs Tom Staggs and Kevin Mayer and backed by private equity giant Blackstone — acquired a 10 percent minority stake in Westbrook Inc., the production company controlled by the Smiths.

The deal, which valued Westbrook at $600 million, according to a knowledgeable source, was predicated in part on Will Smith’s stardom, with Westbrook securing a piece of every project the couple appears in (from Red Table Talk to King Richard), in addition to projects in which they aren’t featured, like Cobra Kai and Bel Air.

With everyone in Hollywood eager to work with the Smiths on TV or film projects, Westbrook’s future seemed like a sure bet, at least until Oscars night. Mayer, speaking at CES shortly after announcing the Westbrook deal, had said that Candle’s “thesis” is built around the belief that “high quality content with high-quality creators at the right brands create great connections in social media with large audiences.”

The uncertainty around Smith will spill over to the production company. With the $60 million in cash, whether the investment terms include a morals clause that could give Candle an exit from the deal remains unclear.