Will Smith smacks Chris Rock at the Oscars. (Rob Latour/Shutterstock)
Chris Rock declined to file a police report Sunday after Will Smith slapped him onstage at the Academy Awards, Los Angeles police appeared to confirm.
But now the Academy says it will investigate on its own, releasing a statement Monday afternoon: “The Academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show. We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our Bylaws, Standards of Conduct and California law.”
This goes one step further than what the Academy said just after Sunday night’s show, which was basically that it didn’t condone violence.
The moment that shocked Hollywood and millions of viewers came after Rock made a joke about a “G.I. Jane” sequel, referencing Jada Pinkett Smith’s bald head. (Actress Demi Moore appeared in the 1997 movie with a shaved head.)
Smith appeared to laugh at first, before walking up to the stage, slapping Rock, returning to his seat and yelling, “Keep my wife’s name out of your (expletive) mouth.”
Pinkett Smith was seen rolling her eyes after Rock’s joke at the awards show.
In 2018, she confirmed that she was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune skin disease that can cause hair loss on the scalp and on other parts of the body.
The Los Angeles Police Department said in a statement that it was “aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program.”.
“The incident involved one individual slapping another,” the LAPD said. “The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”
Still, the slap seen around the world spurred much discussion from viewers. Could Will Smith face charges? Can the Academy rescind his Oscar?
Could Will Smith face assault charges?
Smith’s slap was assault and battery under California law, and any watching police officer in the building could have immediately removed Smith from the stage, according to legal analyst Aron Solomon, who says he checked California statutes after the incident witnessed by millions.
“The immediate question (online) is was it a crime, and statutorily it’s clear it was assault and battery – there was actual physical contact – and that’s a misdemeanour,” says Solomon, chief legal analyst for Esquire Digital in Philadelphia, which helps lawyers grow their practices. “Generally both are punishable by a fine of $2,000 and up to six months in county jail.”
Alleged misdemeanours in LA are handled by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office. USA TODAY has reached out for a comment.
But if Rock doesn’t press charges, the prosecution may be unlikely.
What did Will Smith, the Academy say about the slap?
After the incident, Smith accepted the award for best actor for his performance as Venus and Serena Williams’ father in “King Richard,” saying: “I know to do what we do, you’ve got to be able to take abuse; you’ve got to be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business you’ve got to be able to have people disrespecting you. And you got to smile, and you’ve got to pretend like that’s OK.”
“I want to apologize to the Academy, I want to apologize to my fellow nominees. … Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things.”
Smith apologized directly to Rock on Instagram Monday for his “unacceptable” and “inexcusable” behaviour. “I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released a statement on Twitter Sunday night saying it “does not condone violence of any form.”
Could the Academy rescind Will Smith’s Oscar?
It’s unlikely, Solomon says, although that would depend on the contractual terms and conditions of its awards process.
Four-time Oscars host Whoopi Goldberg, a member of the Academy’s board of governors who won a best-supporting actress Oscar in 1991 for “Ghost,” also predicted Monday that Smith will not be stripped of his award.
“We’re not going to take that Oscar from him,” Goldberg said on “The View.” “There will be consequences I’m sure, but I don’t think that’s what they’re going to do, particularly because Chris said, ‘Listen, I’m not pressing any charges.’ ”
So far, the Academy has not rescinded director Roman Polanski’s 2003 Oscar for “The Pianist,” although it expelled him from the Academy in 2018, decades after he pleaded guilty to statutory rape in a plea bargain in the late 1970s and fled the country.
In its statement Monday, the Academy cited its bylaws for a variety of sanctions less severe than suspension or expulsion, including private or public reprimand, temporary or permanent loss of privileges, or “revocation of Academy awards or honours.”
The relevant “inappropriate conduct” in the Academy bylaws that might apply to the slap includes: “Physical contact that is uninvited and, in the situation, inappropriate and unwelcome.” Also: “Intimidation, stalking, abusive or threatening behaviour, or bullying.”
Even if Rock declines to file a criminal complaint, he could file a civil suit against Smith – and he has up to two years to do so if he later finds he has suffered either a physical injury or reputational injury or both, Solomon says.
If Rock decides to press criminal charges, prosecutors would then have to decide whether to pursue what’s called a “wobbler,” an offense that toggles between a misdemeanour and a felony. If Smith’s target had been, say, a police officer rather than a fellow entertainer, a prosecutor could make the case that this was a more “aggressive” offense, Solomon says.
The office of Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón declined to comment, citing the jurisdiction of the city attorney’s office over alleged misdemeanours.
Gascón, who took office in 2020, is under threat of recall, accused by police and many of his own assistant district attorneys of being “soft” on crime after he announced new policies aimed at criminal justice reform.
Has this ever happened at the Oscars before?
Not as far as Rachel Fiset knows. She’s a former lawyer for the Academy (now a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles) who used to be among the team of lawyers who, with city lawyers, would work the Oscars before the show, making sure people without tickets didn’t sneak in, and having them removed if they did. Then they’d get to go inside and enjoy the ceremony themselves.
“(The Oscars show) is so warm and so friendly and so fun, and everyone is so excited – so this was really out of the norm,” she says. Nevertheless, what happened was “a crime, a misdemeanour, and it could absolutely be charged if the city attorney wanted to pursue it, but I have a hunch they won’t without Chris Rock’s cooperation.”
Why wasn’t Smith removed from his seat after the slap? It was possible to do so, Fiset says, but the lawyers are scattered throughout the audience and probably didn’t have time to come together to decide.
More to the point, she says, the show’s producers and lawyers doubtlessly “knew he was going to win” and taking him out would not have been a good look for anybody, especially the Academy.
“The Academy is very conservative and I think not doing anything last night was a conservative approach,” she says. “On balance, the Academy made a fair decision in leaving him in the audience to win his Oscar, and then dealing with it today.”
She was impressed with Rock’s low-key reaction. The “joke” he told might have been mean but it wasn’t a crime. “He handled it perfectly,” she says. “Will Smith looks very angry, and did himself a lot of reputational harm.”
He will likely get Oscar’s slap-on-the-wrist punishment, she predicts.
What are the repercussions for Will Smith and Chris Rock?
No matter what happens (or doesn’t) in court, the slap was bad for both men, for the Academy and for the movies, Solomon says.
“It hurts Chris Rock for using poor judgment for making a bad joke that crossed the line, and it hurts Will Smith because (he responded with) violence,” Solomon says, although he wonders if the level of outrage being expressed online would be the same if it were two white movie stars in a similar wrangle.
The slap “dishonoured the film (‘King Richard’), it dishonoured Venus and Serena Williams, it dishonoured Questlove (whose win immediately after for best documentary was overshadowed), it dishonoured the Academy – there are so many aspects to this that no matter how you slice and dice it, there’s nothing good that comes from it.”