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How will the academy punish Will Smith for his Oscars slap? It has various options

A man in a black suit steps onto a stage
Will Smith onstage at the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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As the sting of Will Smith’s hand striking Chris Rock’s face begins to fade, a big question remains: What, if anything, will the film academy do to punish the “King Richard” Oscar winner for his inappropriate on-camera behavior?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said Wednesday that it had asked Smith to leave the ceremony but the actor refused to do so. (Then again, maybe it didn’t ask?)

The organization said its board of governors had “initiated disciplinary proceedings” against Smith for violations of its standards of conduct, a code that was updated in late 2017 by a task force that was formed in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. The code specifically prohibits “abusive or threatening behavior,” which presumably includes smacking a peer in front of an audience of 15.4 million people.

“[W]e also recognize we could have handled the situation differently,” the academy added in its statement.

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After the film academy announced disciplinary proceedings against Will Smith, new accounts dispute whether Smith was asked to leave after he slapped Chris Rock.

The film academy’s disciplinary measures — in addition to expulsion or suspension of membership — “may include private reprimand, public reprimand, temporary or permanent loss of privileges to attend and participate in Academy events or activities, temporary or permanent loss of eligibility to receive or hold or revocation of Academy awards or honors, temporary or permanent loss of eligibility to hold Academy service and volunteer roles, or other sanctions that the Academy in its sole discretion may deem appropriate.”

Here are some punishment options the academy might choose.

Expulsion

Kicking Smith out of the academy would be a huge statement — one the organization is probably unwilling to make. Among those who have been booted from the group are Weinstein (expelled in 2017), director Roman Polanski (out in 2017), Bill Cosby (axed in 2017) and cinematographer Adam Kimmel (booted in 2021), all of whom participated in alleged sexual misconduct. There’s also actor Carmine Caridi, who was kicked out in 2004 for pirating his “for your consideration” screener videos and giving them to a friend who was not a member.

If Smith was asked to leave, critics wonder, why was he allowed to accept his Oscar? Defenders point to what they see as a racial double standard.

Exclusion

The “Men in Black” star could be banned from participating in academy activities, including future Oscars ceremonies. That means he would be out as a presenter as well as a guest and — in a break from tradition — he wouldn’t get to present the 2023 Oscar to next year’s lead actress winner.

At the end of his lead actor acceptance speech Sunday, the tearful actor thanked the academy and said he hopes “the academy invites me back,” so he knows he might be on thin ice.

Cancellation

This isn’t exactly the “cancel culture” everyone’s been talking about in recent years, but it’s close enough. Smith could be excluded from eligibility for Academy Awards in the future, under the academy’s right to punish offenders with what it calls “temporary or permanent loss of eligibility to receive or hold or revocation of Academy awards or honors.”

On Ellen DeGeneres’ show, Oscars host Wanda Sykes unpacks her thoughts about the slap heard ‘round the world. Also, she wonders, where is her apology?

Revocation

Theoretically, the academy could take back Smith’s newly earned Oscar, but it would be unprecedented. While three people — actors George C. Scott and Marlon Brando and “The Informer” screenwriter Dudley Nichols — have declined to accept their awards, only one Oscar has been taken back: The only time the academy ever revoked an Oscar is for a 1969 documentary, “Young Americans,” which turned out to be ineligible for that year’s honor. Weinstein and Polanski still have their trophies.

“We’re not going to take that Oscar from him,” Whoopi Goldberg said Tuesday on “The View.” The member of the academy’s board of governors also predicted “big consequences” for the errant actor. Goldberg, however, is but one of 54 people on the film academy’s board, and in the end it appears to be a group decision.

Everything we know about the infamous moment at the 2022 Oscars, from the history leading up to the onstage shocker to today’s latest developments.

Suspension

This is most likely going to be part of Smith’s punishment, which will be voted on at a board of governors meeting on April 18. The Oscar winner was offered 15 days to provide a written response.

“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,” states the introduction to the group’s code of conduct. “The Academy is categorically opposed to any form of abuse. ...” As the organization strives to be more inclusive and faces a host of new challenges, the last thing it wants is a loose-cannon member whose public misbehavior goes without consequences.

An LAPD spokesman said there was no deadline to file a complaint and that it would “complete a report at any time in the future.”

Use your imagination

A close reading of the code of conduct suggests the academy has the right to do whatever the heck it wants to do — under the umbrella of “other sanctions that the Academy in its sole discretion may deem appropriate.” This is a group of creatives, after all.

No matter what the academy’s governors decide, it will come soon enough and likely won’t be a secret. This is also in the code of conduct: “[E]xcept with respect to a private reprimand, the Academy may make public any finding of a violation and sanctions issued.”

Times staff writer Josh Rottenberg contributed to this report.


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