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Will Smith’s Onstage Assault On Chris Rock Disrupts History-Making Oscars. Smith Issues Apology

Chris Rock, in a deep blue velvet dinner jacket recoils after Will Smith slaps him onstage. Smith's right hand is open and back by his side at end of a swinging motion.
Will Smith slaps Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
(Robyn Beck
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AFP via Getty Images)
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The producers of the Academy Awards said they were determined to make this year’s ceremony more exciting.

They certainly got their wish.

Cinematic history hosted by Jacqueline Stewart

In a stunning moment that immediately joins the ranks of legendary Oscar debacles like Rob Lowe’s opening Snow White dance number in 1989 and the wrong announcement of Moonlight’s best picture win in 2017, actor Will Smith rushed the stage Sunday night to assault Chris Rock after the comedian made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

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After he slapped Rock, Smith continued to verbally taunt him, twice shouting a profane threat —“Keep my wife’s name out of your f— mouth” — in front of stunned and suddenly speechless Oscar nominees and guests. U.S. viewers got an extended muted stretch of the show while Smith was speaking from his seat, but uncensored clips from overseas broadcasts quickly made the rounds on social media.

[Late Monday afternoon, Smith offered an apology to Rock, more on that in a moment.]

Will Smithm center, is surrounded by his family while holding his Oscar for best male actor in a leading role.
(L-R) Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith, Will Smith, Jaden Smith, and Trey Smith attend the 2022 Vanity Fair Oscar Party.
(Frazer Harrison
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Getty Images North America)

About an hour later, Smith won the best actor Academy Award for King Richard, his first. He not only failed to apologize to Rock in his acceptance speech, but also defended his attack by saying he’s an “ambassador of love and care and concern.”

The Los Angeles Police Department saw it differently, but said Rock declined to file a complaint against Smith. “If the party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report,” the LAPD said in a statement.

On Monday, the Academy said that the organization will "explore further action and consequences" for Smith's assault amid questions about why the actor was able to remain in the room after slapping Rock. The statement said the Academy is planning to “explore further action and consequences in accordance with our Bylaws, Standards of Conduct and California law.”

In addition. SAG-AFTRA leaders issued this statement Monday afternoon:

“As the union representing presenters and other performers working on the Oscars, SAG-AFTRA is focused on ensuring our members always work in a safe environment. Violence or physical abuse in the workplace is never appropriate and the union condemns any such conduct. The incident involving Will Smith and Chris Rock at last night's Academy Awards was unacceptable. We have been in contact with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and ABC about this incident, and will work to ensure this behavior is appropriately addressed. SAG-AFTRA does not comment on any pending member disciplinary process.”

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Apology Offered

Will Smith, via his Instagram account, released this statement late Monday afternoon:

Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally.

I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.

I would also like to apologize to the Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world. I would like to apologize to the Williams Family and my King Richard Family. I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us.

I am a work in progress.

Historic Ceremony

The incident unfortunately overshadowed a historic Oscar ceremony, which was staged with a live audience at its home venue, Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre — after an austere pandemic-era presentation last year at L.A.’s Union Station.

CODA, distributed by Apple TV+, upset The Power of the Dog for best picture in the first such win for a streaming release. Two performers from underrepresented communities — a Deaf man and a queer woman of color — won the supporting acting statuettes. The Power of the Dog’s Jane Campion collected the directing Oscar, meaning women have won the last two such honors (Nomadland’s Chloé Zhao took the directing trophy last year). And the sci-fi adaptation Dune won the most trophies, with six.

From left to right Ariana DeBose wears a bright red gown, Troy Kotsur is in all black with a cap and Jessica Chastain wears a shimmering grown that goes from gold on top to lavender below. All three hold Oscars in their right hands.
Oscar winners Troy Kotsur (C), Ariana DeBose (L) and Jessica Chastain (R) pose together during the 94th Oscars.
(Frederic J. Brown
/
AFP via Getty Images)

Jessica Chastain was named best actress in a lead role for The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Troy Kotsur, who is Deaf, won the supporting actor trophy for CODA, and Ariana DeBose earned the supporting actress trophy for West Side Story. 

CODA director Siân Heder won for adapted screenplay, while Kenneth Branagh took the original screenplay honor for Belfast.

The ceremony’s producers, trying to reverse steadily deteriorating ratings by speeding up the show, excised eight award announcements from the live broadcast (winners nevertheless appeared in condensed vignettes in the main show). And yet, the broadcast ran some 40 minutes over its scheduled time, the longest Oscars since 2018.

The best picture CODA win for Apple TV+ was part of a stunning setback for rival Netflix.

Power of the Dog had the most nominations, with 27, going into the ceremony. It collected just one, for Campion.

Rock, known for his blunt and fearless comedy, was presenting the award for documentary feature (the winner was Summer of Soul.)

He made what sounded like a cheeky joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s short hair (she has a balding condition called alopecia), saying she looked ready to star in a G.I. Jane 2, a reference to Demi Moore’s fierce 1997 lead role as an equally short-haired soldier.

Smith initially laughed at the joke, while his wife looked very displeased. Moments later, Smith rushed the stage to slap Rock, then returned to his seat near the stage and continued yelling.

At a party after the ceremony, Smith was quoted by The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, respectively, saying “It’s been a beautiful night” and “It’s all about love.”

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John Horn covers the business of entertainment, examining what's next for Hollywood post pandemic.