Leading up to the 2022 94th Academy Awards ceremony, there was a significant amount of buzz surrounding the possibility of Will Smith finally earning the renowned “Best Actor” award for his performance in King Richard. During what should have been the highlight of his career, Smith drastically changed the tone for the evening when he unexpectedly stormed the stage to hit comedian Chris Rock after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife,Jada Pinkett Smith.
At first, the incident seemed similar to Kanye West’s infamous moment at the Grammys during which he went on stage while Taylor Swift accepted an award, insisting that she didn’t deserve it (another shocking, yet non-violent disaster); however, when Smith returned to his seat, he showed how serious he was while shouting profanities at Rock when he told him “Keep my wife’s name out your f***ing mouth.” Rock’s reaction, along with the dead silence from the audience, really emphasized the severity of the moment and made viewers question whether the stunt had been scripted or was in fact genuine.
Not long after this distressing incident, Smith was awarded the “Best Actor” award. During his speech, Smith emphasized that he is the “protector” and “defender” of his family and loved ones. Smith apologized to the Academy, but noticeably left out any apologies to Rock. Smith also emotionally explained to the audience that he is a “vessel for love.” Smith’s speech seemed to leave viewers with more questions than answers, and the most distinguished moment in his career was completely overshadowed by his seemingly out of character behavior.
What initially seemed like it may have been a publicity stunt to raise viewership of the Oscars quickly proved to be a serious situation. In the wake of the event, the Academy released a statement in which it said: “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.” The Academy also claimed that it is taking disciplinary action against Smith for violating the Academy’s code of conduct and “compromising the integrity of the Academy”. Such disciplinary actions may include “suspension, expulsion, or other sanctions permitted by the Bylaws and Standards of Conduct.”
According to sources obtained by CBS News, it will take a “few weeks” to process the formal review of Smith’s attack on Rock, as the Academy must “follow an official process.” The Academy’s statement further explained: “As outlined in our bylaws, the Academy’s Board of Governors will now make a determination on appropriate action for Mr. Smith…As governed by California law regarding members of nonprofit organizations like the Academy, and set forth in our Standards of Conduct, this must follow an official process that will take a few weeks.” In addition to this statement, the Academy addressed the elephant in the room: how was Will Smith able to accept his award shortly after this attack? Well, according to the Academy, Smith refused to leave the ceremony, although he was asked to do so.
Based on the widely public evidence of the situation and California law, it’s very likely that Smith will be faced with some type of discipline for his conduct. The LAPD confirmed that Rock had initially declined to file a report against Smith; however, the LAPD stated that should Rock change his mind and wish to file a report at a later date, then he may. According to Deadline.com, Smith could face up to six months in jail and be required to pay a fine of up to $100,000 in the event that Rock changes his mind and decides to press charges.
It seems that Rock would have a fairly easy time pressing charges against Smith should he decide to do so. The California Penal Code defines battery in § 242 as “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another,” while assault is defined in § 240 as “an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.” It’s extremely clear that Smith is guilty of the assault and battery of his colleague, and the fact that it was both recorded and witnessed by a live audience exponentially diminished Smith’s ability to argue his innocence.
As for the actors themselves, Smith posted an apology message to Rock on his Instagram account, while Rock has yet to speak publicly about the incident. Smith claimed that hearing a joke at his wife’s expense was too much for him to bear, especially a joke that he believed to be poking fun at her medical condition. In 2018, Pinkett Smith publicly shared that she suffers from alopecia, which is a condition that has caused her to lose her hair. Unsurprisingly, Smith’s actions have left stars publicly divided on the situation, with many expressing sadness and frustration that he took it too far, while some think it was an admirable way to defend his wife.
Realistically, Smith would likely have been much more successful in defending his wife had he, instead of hitting Rock, made a post to his 62.6 million Instagram followers expressing the pain Rock’s joke had caused. Such a statement would have prompted his fanbase to spread awareness of his wife’s medical condition and most likely would have pressured Rock into apologizing. Ultimately, Smith’s approach to the situation showed viewers that he believes it’s okay to choose violence when someone hurts his feelings, a decision that a non-movie star, average person would rightly be penalized for.
Featured image photo credit: Evan Agostini/AP