The slap that overshadowed the 94th Academy Awards is far from being swept under the red carpet.
Actor Will Smith attacked Chris Rock after the comedian made a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, at the ceremony. The joke appeared to reference Pinkett Smith’s alopecia, an auto-immune disease that causes hair loss. Later in the night, Smith won his first Oscar for his role in King Richard.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hosts the Oscars, said it had launched a formal review into the incident and fans are wondering: could Smith be stripped of his Oscar?
The Academy has issued a statement condemning Smith’s actions, announcing it will launch an inquiry to determine further action and consequences. The Academy’s board of governors will meet on Wednesday to discuss the issue.
The Academy prohibits uninvited physical contact and according to the association’s bylaws, disciplinary action could include “suspension of membership or expulsion from membership”.
Whoopi Goldberg, actor and member of the Academy’s board of governors, said during US talkshow The View on Monday: “We’re not going to take that Oscar from him. There will be consequences I’m sure, but I don’t think that’s what they’ll do.”
In 2017 the Academy revoked the membership of Harvey Weinstein at the height of the sexual misconduct scandal surrounding the former film producer, who was later convicted on several charges.
The Academy adopted a new code of conduct in 2017 in the wake of the allegations against Weinstein, saying at the time: “There is no place in the Academy for people who abuse their status, power or influence in a manner that violates recognized standards of decency.”
Following the new code, Roman Polanski, who was convicted of rape and sex with a minor, was stripped of his membership.
So was Bill Cosby, who spent more than two years in jail convicted on sexual assault, but had his charges overturned last year.
However, it is worth noting that Polanski – who won best director for The Pianist in 2003, almost 30 years after his conviction for rape – has not had his Oscar taken away from him. Nor has Weinstein had to return any of the 81 Oscars shared between Miramax and The Weinstein Company. He has also not had to give up the one Oscar awarded to him directly: best picture, for his role as a producer on Shakespeare in Love.
It is also worth noting that the Academy has not punished actors who have been physically threatening to others during the Oscars ceremony: in 1973, six security guards had to hold back John Wayne when actor and activist Sacheen Littlefeather took to the stage to speak on behalf on Marlon Brando, declining his best actor award to instead speak about Native American rights.
The Academy does not condone violence of any form.— The Academy (@TheAcademy) March 28, 2022
Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.
Smith issued a written apology to Rock and the Academy Awards on Monday, saying he was “out of line and … wrong” and that his actions were “not indicative of the man I want to be”.
“My behaviour at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable,” the statement said.
“Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally.”
During his Oscar acceptance speech, Smith apologised to the Academy for his behaviour, but this did not include an apology to Rock.
Smith’s is undergoing a trial by public opinion. But film publicist Charles McDonald said he thinks Smith’s career can survive given the actor is atoning for his actions.
“I think people have a great affection for him. You can’t resort to violence like that, obviously, and the language he used afterwards, despite the provocation. But I think there will be sympathy for him.”