The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences says that Will Smith refused its request to leave Sunday’s (March 27) Academy Awards ceremony.
In an incident that sent shockwaves around the world, Smith reacted to a joke by comedian Chris Rock about his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith’s shaved head by storming the stage, striking Rock with an open hand, and then angrily rebuking him once he had returned to his front-row seat. Pinkett-Smith has alopecia.
Smith’s actions drew widespread condemnation. The Academy, too, has come in for stinging criticism, with many suggesting that Smith should have been removed from the ceremony at the Dolby Theater. Instead, he remained, and within an hour of hitting Rock had received a standing ovation as he collected his Best Actor Oscar for ‘King Richard’.
Now, as it acknowledges that it could have done more to defuse proceedings, the Academy claims that Smith rebuffed a request by event organisers for him to depart. “Things unfolded in a way we could not have anticipated,” the Academy said in a new statement. “While we would like to clarify that Mr Smith was asked to leave the ceremony and refused, we also recognise we could have handled the situation differently.”
As reported by The Guardian, the Academy’s board met yesterday (March 30) to initiate formal disciplinary proceedings against Smith. Suspension, expulsion and the revocation of his Oscar are all options on the table. He has been given an April 18 deadline to defend himself in writing. The case is expected to drag on for some weeks.
The Academy has now formally apologised to Rock, saying in the same statement: “Mr Rock, we apologise to you for what you experienced on our stage and thank you for your resilience in that moment. We also apologise to our nominees, guests and viewers for what transpired during what should have been a celebratory event.”
Smith used his rambling and highly emotional five-minute acceptance speech to apologise to the Academy, but not Rock. In a social media message posted on Monday (March 28), he extended his remorse to Rock directly; the comedian has yet to comment in any kind of detail on the incident, even after returning to the stand-up stage in Boston, Massachusetts last night (March 30).