Oscars producer Will Packer initially thought Will Smith, Chris Rock staged that slap

Two men in tuxedos stand in a crowd backstage
Will Packer, left, with Chris Rock backstage during the 94th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

First-time Oscars producer Will Packer has shed more light on the immediate aftermath of that infamous Oscars slap. Appearing on “Good Morning America” on Friday, Packer explained what happened behind the scenes after “King Richard” star Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on Sunday, then returned to the stage an hour later to accept his lead actor Academy Award.

The show, which Packer co-produced with Shayla Cowan, was dubbed by this newspaper as “the most chaotic Oscars in history.” And Packer apparently agreed, saying that he too thought that Smith and Rock had staged a bit that wasn’t scripted.

“I said, ‘Watch this, he’s gonna kill.’ Because I knew [Rock] had an amazing lineup of jokes that we had — we had them in the [Tele]PrompTer — and ultimately he did not get to one joke. He didn’t tell one of the planned jokes. He was just immediately freestyling,” Packer said on “GMA,” which airs on ABC, the same network as the globally televised Oscars.

“But I tell you, if there’s anybody that you don’t worry about going out in front of a live audience and riffing off the cuff, it’s Chris Rock. Nobody’s better,” he told “GMA’s” T.J. Holmes.

Producer Will Packer said police were ready to arrest Will Smith after he slapped Chris Rock, but Rock didn’t want to press charges.


Then, Packer, like much of the world, saw Smith approach the stage and strike Rock after the comedian quipped about actor Jada Pinkett Smith having a bald head. Pinkett Smith has been open about losing her hair because of the autoimmune disorder alopecia.

“I thought it was part of something that Chris and Will were doing on their own. I thought it was a bit. I wasn’t concerned at all,” Packer said. “Once I saw Will yelling at the stage with such vitriol, my heart dropped. And I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, no, oh, no. Not like this.”

Going into Sunday’s ceremony, Packer had already made the controversial decision to cut eight below-the-line category presentations from the main broadcast, opting to start the ceremony early, give out those awards and edit the winners’ acceptance speeches into the telecast. The gamble largely paid off, but the Emmy-nominated producer’s bold move, much like the rest of the show, was eclipsed by Smith’s behavior.

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 “Girls Trip” and “Think Like a Man” producer’s remarks on Friday were the most he has said so far about the historic live-TV moment, which sent shockwaves across the globe.

As Sunday night unfolded, the Los Angeles Police Department put out a statement saying that Rock declined to press charges against Smith, an “an absolute fact” that Packer also explained Friday.

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.

“They were saying, you know, this is battery. [That] was the word they used in that moment,” Packer added. “They said, ‘We will go get him; we are prepared. We’re prepared to get him right now. You can press charges. We can arrest him.’

“They were laying out the options, and as they were talking, Chris was being very dismissive of those options,” Packer continued. “He was like, ‘No, I’m fine.’ He was like, ‘No, no, no.’ And even to the point where I said, ‘Rock, let them finish.’ The LAPD officers finished laying out what his options were, and they said, ‘Would you like us to take any action?’ And he said no.”

On Wednesday, the film academy announced it has launched disciplinary proceedings against Will Smith after he slapped Chris Rock.

The producer said he had been told that Smith was going to be physically removed from the show, but had not been a part of those conversations.

“And so, I immediately went to the [film] academy leadership that was on site, and I said Chris Rock doesn’t want that. I said Rock has made it clear that he does not want to make a bad situation worse. That was Chris’ energy. His tone was not retaliatory. His tone was not angry. So I was advocating what Rock wanted in that time, which was not to physically remove Will Smith at that time. Because as it has now been explained to me, that was the only option at that point. It has been explained to me that there was a conversation that I was not a part of to ask him to voluntarily leave.”

From temporarily suspending Will Smith’s membership to taking away his Oscar, the film academy has a broad range of disciplinary options available.

Smith, he added, reached out to Packer the next morning to apologize and said, “This should’ve been a gigantic moment for you” and “he expressed his embarrassment and that was the extent of it.”

The Oscars producer came under fire for being glib after the show, tweeting, “Welp …I said it wouldn’t be boring” after the shocking telecast. Striking a more somber note, Packer later responded to a critic by writing: “Black people have a defiant spirit of laughter when it comes to dealing with pain because there has been so much of it. I don’t feel the need to elucidate that for you. But I also don’t mind being transparent and say that this was a very painful moment for me. On many levels.”

Although Smith put out an official statement apologizing for his “inexcusable” action, many people involved with putting on the Oscars have expressed disappointment in him and how he derailed a night meant to celebrate films and showcase Black excellence.

Comedians Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes, who co-hosted the telecast with Regina Hall, have since said they were “traumatized” by the incident. Sykes added that she thought it was “gross” that Smith was allowed to stay in the room and return to the stage to accept the award for lead actor.

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.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has put out mixed messages about what happened in the immediate aftermath of the slap and whether Smith was asked to leave the Dolby Theatre. The group has also launched a formal investigation and said that the “Concussion” and “Ali” star faces “suspension, expulsion or other sanctions” for his actions.

Rock has stayed relatively quiet about the affair but briefly addressed it Wednesday during a stand-up set in Boston, saying that he was “still processing” the incident and might speak about it later.