On Wednesday, three days after a shocking altercation at the 94th Academy Awards ceremony in which Will Smith slapped Chris Rock over a joke about his wife, the motion picture academy announced that it was initiating disciplinary proceedings against Smith and said that the star — who went on to win the lead actor prize later that night — had been asked to leave the Oscars after the incident but had refused.
“The Board of Governors today initiated disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Smith for violations of the Academy’s Standards of Conduct, including inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior and compromising the integrity of the Academy,” the organization said in a statement issued following a virtual meeting of its board of governors earlier in the day.
The academy said the disciplinary action — “which may include suspension, expulsion or other sanctions permitted by the Bylaws and Standards of Conduct” — would be voted on by the group’s 54-member board, which includes such notables as Steven Spielberg, Ava DuVernay and Laura Dern, at a meeting on April 18.
Facing criticism over its handling of the incident, which upended the Oscars and stunned millions of viewers, the organization revealed the detail about Smith refusing a request to leave.
Less than an hour after striking Rock, Smith won the lead actor award for his work on the film “King Richard,” earning a standing ovation and cheers from many of his peers in the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
“Things unfolded in a way we could not have anticipated,” the group said in its statement. “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.”
Representatives for Smith — who issued an apology for the incident Monday — did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the academy’s statement. The academy did not immediately respond to a request for further details on what transpired among the organization, Smith and his publicist that night.
Since the eruption of violence in Sunday’s ceremony, the academy has been under growing pressure, including from its own members, to hold Smith accountable, creating an unprecedented crisis for the already problem-plagued organization. On Monday, the organization condemned Smith’s behavior and said it was conducting a formal review.
In its statement Wednesday, the organization went further in blasting the actor’s conduct — and also extended an apology to Rock, who had not spoken publicly about the incident until he took the stage to perform a comedy show in Boston on Wednesday night, where he reportedly received a prolonged standing ovation.
In an audio recording released online by the trade publication Variety, Rock can be heard saying, "How was your weekend?" to a rousing response. But he wasn't in a mood to say more, noting that his material had already been written. "I’m still kind of processing what happened ... at some point, I’ll talk about that s—. And it will be serious and funny."
“Mr. Smith’s actions at the 94th Oscars were a deeply shocking, traumatic event to witness in-person and on television,” the academy said. “Mr. Rock, we apologize to you for what you experienced on our stage and thank you for your resilience in that moment. We also apologize to our nominees, guests and viewers for what transpired during what should have been a celebratory event.”
Two of the show's co-hosts, comedians Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes, also offered their reactions to the incident on Wednesday. On Ellen DeGeneres' daytime talk show, Sykes said she “felt so awful for my friend Chris, and it was sickening. I physically felt ill, and I'm still a little traumatized by it."
Sykes also criticized the decision to allow Smith to remain in the theater and accept his Oscar. "For them to let him stay in that room and enjoy the rest of the show and accept his award, I was like, 'How gross is this? This is just the wrong message,'" she said. "You assault somebody, you get escorted out the building and that's it. For them to let him continue, I thought it was gross. Plus, I wanted to be able to run out after he won and say, 'Unfortunately, Will couldn't be here tonight...'"
In an Instagram post Wednesday, Schumer wrote: “Still triggered and traumatized. I love my friend @chrisrock and believe he handled it like a pro. Stayed up there and gave an Oscar to his friend @questlove [Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, for the feature documentary “Summer of Soul”] and the whole thing was so disturbing.”
It’s unclear what disciplinary action the organization may ultimately take against one of the industry’s biggest and most generally well-liked stars. On Monday, Whoopi Goldberg, an academy governor, said categorically on the daytime talk show “The View”: “We’re not going to take that Oscar from him.”
But the decision would be up to the board. Since adopting a code of conduct in 2017, the academy has ejected only three members: producer Harvey Weinstein, director Roman Polanski and comedian-author Bill Cosby.
Some have speculated that Smith’s membership could be suspended for a certain period of time or that the actor — who has a film coming out later this year from Apple called “Emancipation” — could be barred from presenting at the awards. (It is customary for the previous year's lead actor winner to present the lead actress trophy, as Anthony Hopkins did to Jessica Chastain this year.)
But whatever the decision, insiders say the ultimate resolution may take three weeks. The organization plans to carefully follow the procedures laid out in its bylaws and standards of conduct. (In 2019, Polanski filed a lawsuit against the academy, alleging that it had not followed its own protocols in expelling him, but ultimately lost the suit.)
Accepting his award Sunday in a tearful, nearly six-minute speech, Smith apologized to the academy and his fellow nominees — but not Rock. The actor concluded with his hope that the academy would “invite me back.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.