Will Smith has apologised to comedian Chris Rock on Monday evening for slapping him during Sunday night's Oscars after the Academy denounced his actions and opened an inquiry into the incident.
Smith, who had pointedly not apologised to Rock on Sunday night when he accepted the award for best actor, wrote on Instagram Monday evening that "I would like to publicly apologise to you, Chris."
“I was out of line and I was wrong,” he said in the statement. “I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be.” His apology came as the academy, a major Hollywood union and others criticized his actions, which stunned viewers around the world and overshadowed the Oscars.
"The academy condemns the actions of Mr Smith at last night's show," the film organisation said in a statement. "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’s statement came after a meeting Monday. A five-page document on standards of conduct that accompanied it spells out behaviour the organisation deems unacceptable. It prohibits “physical contact that is uninvited and, in the situation, inappropriate and unwelcome, or coercive sexual attention.” Also not allowed is “intimidation, stalking, abusive or threatening behaviour, or bullying.”
Disciplinary action, according to the bylaws, could include “suspension of membership or expulsion from membership.” The academy was not known to have expelled a member before 2017, when Harvey Weinstein was removed amid allegations of sexual harassment and rape.
Then, in 2018, after adopting a code of conduct for members, the organization expelled Bill Cosby, who had been convicted of sexual assault, and filmmaker Roman Polanski, who had fled the country years earlier while awaiting sentencing for statutory rape.
The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the union representing thousands of people who work in film, television and radio, called the incident “unacceptable” but said that it “does not comment on any pending member disciplinary process.”
"Violence or physical abuse in the workplace is never appropriate and the union condemns any such conduct," the union said in a statement Monday. "The incident involving Will Smith and Chris Rock at last night's Academy Awards was unacceptable."
The incident unfolded Sunday night after Rock made a joke about the buzzed hair of Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who has alopecia, a condition that leads to hair loss. Will Smith responded by walking onto the stage of the Dolby Theatre and slapping Rock, leaving stunned viewers wondering at first if the blow might have been scripted until Smith returned to his seat and warned him to stop talking about his wife, using expletives.
Behind the scenes at the Oscars, there were serious discussions about removing Smith from the theatre, according to two industry officials with knowledge of the situation who were granted anonymity to describe internal deliberations. But time was short, because the best actor award, which Smith was heavily favoured to win, was fast approaching and stakeholders had varying opinions on how to proceed. There was also concern about further disrupting the live broadcast, the other said.
As the show went on, actor Denzel Washington spoke with Smith during a commercial break. Not long after that Smith won best actor. In his onstage remarks, Smith apologised to the academy and to his fellow nominees, but not to Rock, and defiantly sought to draw parallels to the character he played in "King Richard," the father of Venus and Serena Williams.
"Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family," Smith said. He received a standing ovation. Smith said in his statement Monday that he had reacted emotionally because a joke about his wife's medical condition was "too much for me to bear."
Smith also apologised to the academy, the show’s producers, the viewers, the people who worked on “King Richard” and the Williams family.
“I deeply regret that my behaviour has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us,” he said. “I am a work in progress.” – The New York Times