The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which organises the Oscars, has issued a statement after Will Smith’s physical and verbal attack on presenter Chris Rock. Smith smacked Rock during the live telecast of the awards ceremony on Sunday for making a joke about his wife. Smith continued to verbally abuse Rock after returning to his seat.
Smith was not removed from the show, and went on to receive the Best Actor Oscar for the biopic King Richard soon after.
The Academy said in a short statement on Twitter that it “does not condone violence of any form” while adding its congratulations to the winners.
The assault followed a crack by Rock about Will Smith’s wife, the actor Jada Pinkett-Smith, who tonsured her head in 2021 following a diagnosis of alopecia.
According to a Variety report, even as the ceremony continued, actor and fellow Oscar nominee Denzel Washington and Smith’s publicist, Meredith O’ Sullivan, came to Smith’s table to talk to him. Smith “seemed to have taken all the air in the room”, Variety noted.
Deadline summarised the shocking incident with the headline ‘Unscripted Slap Turns Stumbling Oscar Show into Stunning Spectacle’.
King Richard stars Will Smith as Richard Williams, the father of Venus and Serena Williams. The film reveals Richard William’s monumental dedication in shaping his daughters into tennis legends.
In his acceptance speech, a teary-eyed Smith apologised to the Academy (but not to Rock) and hoped that the Academy would invite him back.
“I’m being called on in my life to love people. And to protect people and to be a river to my people. 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 gotta be able to have people disrespecting you and you gotta smile and pretend like that’s OK…”
Denzel [Washington] said to me a few minutes ago, “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.” I want to be a vessel for love. I want to say thank you to Venus and Serena … and the entire Williams family for entrusting me with your story…
“I want to apologize to the Academy, I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment and I’m not crying for winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me; it’s about being able to shine a light on all the people … and the entire cast and crew of King Richard and Venus and Serena and the entire Williams family. Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams! But, love will make you do crazy things.”
Prominent American actors and comedians reacted to the assault. Chris Rock has always been “edgy”, actor Mia Farrow pointed out.
Among those who weighed in were comedians London Hughes and Hari Kondabolu, Star Wars actor Mark Hamill, director Rob Reiner and documentary filmmaker Michael Moore.
Will and Jada-Pinkett Smith’s son, the actor Jaden Smith, had a defiant response to the episode.