The group behind the Oscar awards is weighing disciplinary actions against actor Will Smith, including possible expulsion or suspension, for slapping presents Chris Rock at Sunday’s awards ceremony.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ board of governors met on Wednesday to discuss how Smith should be punished for violating its standards of conduct. It has faced criticism for not ejecting Smith from the auditorium of the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles after he hit Rock for a joke about his wife’s hair.
The actor remained in his seat and, about 45 minutes later, received an Oscar, and a standing ovation, for his performance in King Richard. In a statement on Wednesday, the Academy said Smith had been asked to leave but refused.
“Things unfolded in a way we could not have anticipated,” the Academy said. “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.”
Smith apologized to the Academy during his acceptance speech for the Best Actor award, but notably failed to apologize to Rock at the time. Have did so on Monday in an Instagram post.
The incident, dubbed “the slap heard around the world”, has left Hollywood shaken and divided over how the Academy responded on Sunday – and how, or whether, to punish Smith.
It has also created yet another crisis for the Academy at a moment when it had hoped to move past years of declining ratings and embarrassments. In 2015 it was criticized for not nominating enough people of color for Oscars, leading to the #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign. Two years later brought “Envelopegate”, in which the wrong best picture was announced. Last year it suffered the worst viewer ratings in its history, at about 10mn.
Some Academy members have said Smith should not be allowed to return to the ceremony next year as a presenter for the Best Actress award, as is the custom for Best Actor winners.
Smith will have the chance to defend himself before the board meets again on April 18.
“Mr Smith’s actions at the 94th Oscars were a deeply shocking, traumatic event to witness in-person and on television,” the Academy said.
It also apologized to Rock, thanking him for his “resilience in that moment” and apologized to “our nominees, guests and viewers for what transpired during what should have been a celebratory event”.