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Will Smith’s Oscars punishment: an unprecedented 10-year ban

A tearful man in a tux holds an Oscar in his right hand while speaking into a mic
A tearful Will Smith holds his Oscar while giving his acceptance speech after winning the lead actor award soon after slapping Chris Rock.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Nearly two weeks after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars over a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Friday it is forbidding Smith from attending any academy events, including the Oscars, for 10 years.

“This action we are taking today in response to Will Smith’s behavior is a step toward a larger goal of protecting the safety of our performers and guests, and restoring trust in the academy,” President David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson said in an open letter to members following a meeting of the organization’s 54-member board. “We also hope this can begin a time of healing and restoration for all involved and impacted.”

Smith, 53, quickly issued a statement Friday that read: “I accept and respect the academy’s decision.”

The news comes one week after Smith — who went on to win the lead actor Oscar less than an hour after striking Rock — resigned from the academy, calling his actions “shocking, painful, and inexcusable.” By resigning, Smith preempted what many expected to be a suspension or expulsion.

“He took that option off the table for us,” said one academy governor, speaking anonymously because of sensitivity of the situation. “But we still had to hold him accountable in some way for what he did at the Oscars.”

Who asked Will Smith to leave? Why did he refuse? What did Chris Rock do backstage? What comes next? We piece together an Oscars scandal like no other.

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The academy stopped short of rendering Smith ineligible for consideration for future Oscar nominations, though many advocated for precisely that action during a two-hour meeting punctuated by a passionate exchange of opinions. Smith has a film from Apple called “Emancipation,” slated for release later this year, which was expected to have had some awards potential.

“People still feel devastated by what happened at the ceremony. We’re talking about reputational damage,” said another governor of the Oscars’ tarnished image. “You can’t put a price tag on that.”

Leading up to the meeting, there had been some talk — including worries from Smith’s camp — that the academy might strip the actor of the Oscar he won for his lead turn in “King Richard,” but that idea never gained traction, sources say. Much of the focus during the discussion centered on fairness and the desire to not treat Smith differently because he’s an A-list movie star. Some in the room wanted to mandate that Smith enroll in anger management therapy, though that kind of prescriptive punishment didn’t have much backing.

“He’s a grown man,” one governor said. “That’s on him.”

A man finishes slapping another man onstage
Chris Rock reacts to getting slapped by Will Smith onstage during the Academy Awards last month.
(Myung Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Though Smith issued multiple apologies in the days after the Oscars, many in the academy felt his acceptance speech — in which he linked himself to his character Richard Williams as “a fierce defender of his family” and failed to apologize to Rock — was self-serving and insufficiently contrite. The fact that Smith was seen later in the evening rapping to his own hits and smiling for photos at the Vanity Fair party further fueled calls for the academy to hold him accountable.

The academy’s code of conduct, enacted in 2017 following the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct scandal, gives academy leaders wide latitude in the disciplinary measures they can take for violations of the group’s standards, ranging from a simple reprimand to expulsion and loss of eligibility forfuture Oscars.

The academy faced fierce criticism over its handling of the slap, with many questioning why Smith was not removed from the Dolby Theatre after striking Rock and yelling profanities from his seat. In a statement last week, the organization said Smith “was asked to leave the ceremony but refused,” even as it expressed some misgivings over its own decisions that night.

Conflicting accounts quickly emerged, with Smith’s camp disputing the nature of the academy’s request, further muddying the picture of what happened backstage in the tense and chaotic minutes after the altercation.

In their letter Friday, academy leaders expressed regret over their handling of the incident and gratitude to Rock for “maintaining his composure under extraordinary circumstances.”

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.

“During our telecast, we did not adequately address the situation in the room,” Rubin and Hudson wrote. “For this, we are sorry. This was an opportunity for us to set an example for our guests, viewers and our academy family around the world, and we fell short — unprepared for the unprecedented.”

“That was important to acknowledge,” one of the governors said. “There are a lot of members who are still upset over the way it was handled.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the academy’s announcement of Smith’s 10-year ban was greeted with mixed reactions on social media, with some arguing that the penalty went too far and others calling it a slap on the wrist for a slap in the face. “A harsher punishment would have been mandatory attendance for 10 years,” actor Joshua Malina joked on Twitter.

Since adopting its code of conduct, the academy has expelled only three people: Weinstein, director Roman Polanski and comedian-author Bill Cosby. Weinstein and Polanski still have their Oscar trophies.

The organization has revoked only one Oscar in its nearly century-long history, taking back the award for the 1969 documentary “Young Americans” after it was deemed to be ineligible for that year’s honor.

For Smith and the academy, the fallout from the incident has been severe, opening up an unprecedented rift between the organization that serves as the public face of the film industry and one of that industry’s biggest stars.

Speaking to The Times in advance of Friday’s meeting, one academy governor, who declined to speak on the record due to the sensitivity of the situation, expressed hope that the board’s decision will help to close one of the ugliest chapters in the organization’s history: “It’s about moving forward. We love our show and we have to be protective of the academy. I think we have to do what feels right.”

A man in a tux onstage addressing a theater
Will Smith addressing the Oscars audience inside the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Here is the complete text of the academy’s letter:

Open Letter to Our Academy Family

The 94th Oscars were meant to be a celebration of the many individuals in our community who did incredible work this past year; however, those moments were overshadowed by the unacceptable and harmful behavior we saw Mr. Smith exhibit on stage.

During our telecast, we did not adequately address the situation in the room. For this, we are sorry. This was an opportunity for us to set an example for our guests, viewers and our Academy family around the world, and we fell short — unprepared for the unprecedented.

Today, the Board of Governors convened a meeting to discuss how best to respond to Will Smith’s actions at the Oscars, in addition to accepting his resignation. The Board has decided, for a period of 10 years from April 8, 2022, Mr. Smith shall not be permitted to attend any Academy events or programs, in person or virtually, including but not limited to the Academy Awards.

We want to express our deep gratitude to Mr. Rock for maintaining his composure under extraordinary circumstances. We also want to thank our hosts, nominees, presenters and winners for their poise and grace during our telecast.

This action we are taking today in response to Will Smith’s behavior is a step toward a larger goal of protecting the safety of our performers and guests, and restoring trust in the Academy. We also hope this can begin a time of healing and restoration for all involved and impacted.


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