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Oscars: Academy Awards condemns Will Smith’s slap of Chris Rock, but police won’t investigate

The Academy Awards has condemned Will Smith’s slap of presenter Chris Rock at yesterday’s Oscars ceremony and started a formal review of the incident.

Will Smith accepting the Actor in a Leading Role award for ‘King Richard’ onstage yesterday in Hollywood, California.
Photo: AFP

Smith strode on stage during the televised ceremony and struck Rock in the face after the comedian made a joke about the appearance of Smith’s wife, actor Jada Pinkett Smith.

Less than an hour later, Smith won best actor for his role in King Richard.

Jada Pinkett Smith has previously spoken about suffering from alopecia – a hair loss condition.

In the aftermath of the incident, the academy initially only said it did not condone violence, but in a statement today, the academy said it “condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show”.

“We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our Bylaws, Standards of Conduct and California law,” the academy said.

The group’s standards of conduct policy states it is “categorically opposed to any form of abuse, harassment or discrimination” and expects members to uphold the values “of respect for human dignity, inclusion, and a supportive environment that fosters creativity.”

Violations may result in suspension or expulsion from the group, revocation of Oscars, or loss of eligibility for future awards, according to the policy.

The New York Times, citing two anonymous industry officials, said there were serious discussions about removing Smith from the Dolby Theatre after his attack on Rock.

But time was short, because the best actor award was fast approaching, one of the sources told the newspaper, and stakeholders had varying opinions on how to proceed.

The Los Angeles Police Department told Variety that Rock had “declined to file a police report” following the event and so they could not investigate.

Clinical psychologist Dougal Sutherland, from Victoria University of Wellington’s school of psychology, told Morning Report Smith’s actions were “tacitly condoned”.

“I think it gives across this implicit message that if you push me to a particular point, I’m okay and I’m justified in responding with violence.”

He said the academy’s initial comment was “pretty weak”.

“They could do something like revoke his Academy Award, for example … to get across the message that ‘hey, hitting somebody just because you don’t like what they’ve said is not an okay thing to do’.”

In his acceptance speech for best actor, Smith apologised to the academy and fellow nominees, but not to Rock, and said he hoped he would be invited back to the Oscars

“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family. In this time in my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world. Making this film, I got to protect Aunganue Ellis, who is one of the most strongest, most delicate people I’ve ever met. I got to protect Saniyya [Sidney] and Demi [Singleton], the two actresses who play Venus and Serena,” he said.

“I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people.

“Now I know to do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse. You gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business you have to be able to have people disrespecting you. And you gotta smile and pretend that’s okay.”

US actor Will Smith slaps US actor Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 27, 2022.

US actor Will Smith slaps US actor Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 27, 2022.
Photo: AFP or licensors

In analysing Smith’s comments, Sutherland said it ties in with the concept of benevolent sexism where women are seen as vulnerable and in need of protection by their “man”.

“If my partner was made a joke of or abused, I would feel angry and full of pent up emotion but that still doesn’t make it okay for me to go and hit somebody, and nor does it actually mean that I have to do it, actually my partner is quite capable of defending herself and I would support her in doing that.

“But I think in these sorts of situations both sides, both the female and male, can get trapped in what’s essentially a protection racket really as [the male] tries to defend [a female’s] honour and she relies on him to do that.”

Sutherland said as a role model, Smith perhaps showed other men it was okay to act aggressively when they did not like what someone said.

No further comment from Smith or Rock on slap

US Correspondent Rachel Silverman told Morning Report some argued Smith needed to be held accountable rather than celebrated, and others said even though he had a right to defend, there were better ways to do so.

“[After the Oscars and the incident], he was at the Vanity Fair party, which is one of the most celebrated post-Oscar parties, dancing, and having a good time. He did not address the incident.

“I’m sure that his lawyers, his agents, his people are trying to come with a good spin for what happened, a spin other than the immediate reaction he had when Chris Rock made the joke about Jada Pinkett Smith.”

Silverman said most people felt Smith should keep the Oscar.

“Whether they invite him back, whether they ask him to make a full mea culpa is something that is yet to be determined.”

But she noted the Oscars had become the talk of the town and was being given a lot more attention than if the incident had not happened.

The ratings figure for the film industry’s highest awards rose 56 percent from last year’s record-low, the American Broadcasting Company said, with roughly 15.36 million people watching this year.

– Reuters / RNZ

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