The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said on Wednesday that actor Will Smith was asked to leave the Oscars ceremony after he slapped Chris Rock on Sunday night onstage, but that the actor had refused to go. "Things unfolded in a way we could not have anticipated," the academy said in a statement announcing that it had initiated disciplinary proceedings against Smith. "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."
The Los Angeles Police Department said shortly after the incident that the person involved – presumably Rock – had "declined to file a police report." The academy's revelation that Smith had been asked to leave came after its board of governors met Wednesday to discuss the incident. The organisation did not describe who had made the request; this week two industry officials with knowledge of the situation said that there had been serious discussions about removing Smith from the theatre but did not say he had been asked to leave.
The academy said that it had initiated disciplinary proceedings against Smith “for violations of the academy’s standards of conduct, including inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behaviour, and compromising the integrity of the academy”. It said that Smith would be given a chance to respond and that at its next board meeting, on April 18th, it “may take any disciplinary action, which may include suspension, expulsion, or other sanctions”.
“Mr Smith’s actions at the 94th Oscars were a deeply shocking, traumatic event to witness in-person and on television,” the academy said in a statement. “Mr Rock, we apologise to you for what you experienced on our stage and thank you for your resilience in that moment.”
Smith later apologised to Rock in a public statement and said he had been 'out of line'
The two and a half-hour meeting of the board of governors Wednesday was described by two people who attended as “emotional”, as the governors conveyed the feelings of their constituents from different branches of the film industry. The feeling in the room, according to those who attended, was that it was their obligation “to not normalise violence,” said two governors who were granted anonymity to discuss a private meeting.
On Wednesday Rock used a sold-out comedy show in Boston to make his first public comments about the incident since Smith slapped him during the live global broadcast of the Academy Awards. "How was your weekend?" Rock asked the crowd at the Wilbur in Boston's theatre district. "I'm still kind of processing what happened," Rock said, briefly addressing the topic everyone was talking about. He promised to discuss it in greater depth later. "It'll be serious, it'll be funny, but I'd love to. I'm going to tell some jokes."
Since the incident Sunday, Hollywood celebrities both connected and unconnected to the awards show have weighed in freely on the incident. Rock, 57, had not been one of them. The veteran stand-up comedian and actor-director didn’t speak publicly about the incident until his show Wednesday evening.
Rock’s entrance was met with an immediate standing ovation, and after audience members took their seats, they stood up again, prompting the comedian to try to quiet them so he could start. “Let me do a show, y’all,” he said. “Y’all got me all misty.” He addressed the elephant in the room, noting that he did not have a lot to say about what happened. “So if you came to hear that, I had like a whole show I wrote before this weekend,” he said. Rock’s grace under pressure that night was one of the few things that drew praise in the aftermath of an ugly moment: He stayed onstage after he was struck, quipped to the stunned audience that “that was the greatest night in the history of television,” and went on with the show.
The incident unfolded on Sunday when Smith reacted to a joke Rock had made about his wife's buzzed hair by leaving his seat in the audience and slapping the comedian across the face, then warning him not to speak about his wife, actor Jada Pinkett Smith. (Pinkett Smith has alopecia, which causes hair loss and has led her to regularly buzz her hair.)
Shortly afterward, Smith won an Oscar for his lead performance in King Richard. He used his speech to defiantly cast himself as a defender of others, and apologised to the academy and to his fellow nominees – but not to Rock. The next day, after the academy condemned his actions and opened an inquiry, Smith apologised to Rock in a public statement and said he had been “out of line”.
The stunning onstage moment immediately set off a national debate over who was to blame and questions about why Smith had faced no repercussions after striking a presenter on live television. Wanda Sykes, one of the hosts of Sunday's telecast, said in a clip from an interview with Ellen DeGeneres that was shared on Wednesday that the moment was "sickening" to her and that she thought Smith should have been escorted from the building instead of being allowed to stay and accept his Oscar.
"I'm still a little traumatized by it," Sykes said in the clip from an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show that is scheduled to air next week. "For them to let him stay in that room and enjoy the rest of the show and accept his award – I was like, how gross is this? This is just the wrong message." – This article originally appeared in The New York Times