Maybe it’s just the way my mind works, but as the Chris Rock-Will Smith situation unfolded live at the Oscars, I was really stunned by how poorly Oscar producer Will Packer and Oscar director Glenn Weiss handled the crisis. I realize that they couldn’t do anything to stop the actual slap, but everything that came after it was a case study in bad management. Not one of the three hosts was sent out to reboot the show and address, to the audience, why they were continuing. Producers abdicated their responsibility to Denzel Washington to manage Will Smith. It was a sh-tshow from a management perspective. Which means that a bunch of people have been in ass-covering mode all week. We’ve already heard that The Academy has launched a review of the incident, and now The Academy has issued yet another statement, threatening Will with suspension or expulsion from The Academy. Here’s the statement:
The Board of Governors today initiated disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Smith for violations of the Academy’s Standards of Conduct, including inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior, and compromising the integrity of the Academy.
Consistent with the Academy’s Standards of Conduct, as well as California law, Mr. Smith is being provided at least 15 days’ notice of a vote regarding his violations and sanctions and the opportunity to be heard beforehand by means of a written response. At the next board meeting on April 18, the Academy may take any disciplinary action, which may include suspension, expulsion, or other sanctions permitted by the Bylaws and Standards of Conduct.
Mr. Smith’s actions at the 94th Oscars were a deeply shocking, traumatic event to witness in-person and on television. Mr. Rock, we apologize to you for what you experienced on our stage and thank you for your resilience in that moment. We also apologize to our nominees, guests and viewers for what transpired during what should have been a celebratory event.
Things unfolded in a way we could not have anticipated. While we would like to clarify that Mr. Smith was asked to leave the ceremony and refused, we also recognize we could have handled the situation differently.
Was he asked to leave and by whom? When? Because the journalists in the room noted that Denzel Washington, Bradley Cooper, Nicole Kidman, Tyler Perry and Will’s publicist Meredith O’Sullivan Wasson all made their way to Will and Jada in the minutes that followed the slap, and no one else. Variety’s account of the post-slap management vacuum was that producers saw that Will was huddled with Denzel and they thought Denzel would handle it. THR reported that The Academy’s outgoing CEO Dawn Hudson and president David Rubin had a private discussion backstage with O’Sullivan Wasson, and that she went out to speak to Will several times. My guess is that’s how The Academy is covering their tracks, and that no one in The Academy’s leadership asked Will in person to leave, they spoke to his publicist and she probably asked him if he WANTED to leave. That’s my guess.
As for all this huffing and puffing from The Academy now… well, this is one of the reasons why it was so important for AMPAS to diversify its membership. So that it wouldn’t just be ass-covering white bureaucrats sitting in a room, figuring out a way to “punish” this year’s Best Actor winner. Except that even though AMPAS has diversified its membership, the executives and Board of Governors are still mostly white.
Update: Variety and TMZ are now reporting that the Academy’s statement about asking Will Smith to leave was a lie. We will have further coverage tomorrow.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Getty and Instar.