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Was Will Smith Really Asked To Leave The Oscars? Sources Say Academy Did Not Ask The Actor Directly

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 the end of a swinging motion.
Will Smith approaches Chris Rock onstage at the Oscars and assaults him.
(Robyn Beck
AFP via Getty Images)
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Was he or wasn't he?

On Wednesday — four days after the shocking onstage assault by Will Smith on Chris Rock at the Oscars — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said in a statement that Smith was asked to leave the show following the slap.

Smith, of course, was still there about an hour later to take the stage again, this time to accept the Oscar for his performance in a leading role in the film King Richard.

Today, reports contradicted the Academy's statement about asking Smith to leave. (TMZ was the first).

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A senior person inside the Academy told us Wednesday that they did too little to address the assault in the moment.

The person spoke on the condition they not be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. They said it was very likely that Smith will be kicked out of the Academy.

It's worth noting that ejection from the Academy is, in fact, one of the outcomes listed in the Academy's statement.

What Happened Oscar Night

As far as any attempt to get Smith to leave a ceremony where he was favored to win one of the biggest awards of the night?

The truth of the matter, according to this person, is that Smith's publicist, Meredith O’Sullivan Wasson, was asked by the Academy to ask Smith to leave. Wasson was seen speaking to Smith after the assault. Wasson has not replied to a request for comment. To date, she has not made any public statements about the incident.

They also said the producer of the show, Will Packer, did not want to ask Smith to leave.

Another person with knowledge of what happened during the ceremony, who also spoke on condition they not be named, said it was David Rubin, the Academy's president, and Dawn Hudson, the CEO, who asked the publicist if she would ask Smith to consider leaving, rather than asking Smith directly to leave.

However, this person said at the same time of that request, Packer said he “officially” told Smith he didn’t have to leave.

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Dominic Patten, a senior editor at Deadline, appeared with me on our newsroom's public affairs show, AirTalk,to talk about what took place and offered additional context:

"What we have been told is, Will said, 'I don't want to leave, I want to stay, I want' — I'm paraphrasing slightly — 'I want to make this right, I want to apologize,' and it was kind of left with that."

Smith did apologize in his speech to the Academy, saying he hoped to be invited back. He pointedly did not, at that moment, apologize to Rock.

Late Monday afternoon, Smith offered an apology to Rock via his official instagram account, calling his actions "unacceptable and inexcusable."

The Academy's statement Wednesday also made a direct apology to Rock:

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.

Rock made his first public appearance since the incident Wednesday night as he launched a tour in Boston. Rock didn't say much about the incident other than that he is still processing what happened.

A Stunning Moment

The initial moment was stunning and immediately joined the ranks of legendary Oscar incidents. Smith rushed the stage Sunday night after the comedian made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, saying he was looking forward to seeing her in G.I. Jane 2.

It was a reference to Pinkett Smith's close-cut hair. She has been open about her struggles with hair loss, and while her husband initially laughed at the joke, Pinkett Smith seemed visibly irritated.

After he slapped Rock and returned to his seat, Smith twice profanely shouted at the comedian not to use his wife's name again. As it became clear it was not a staged bit, and viewers at home experienced an extended period of muted sound, the crowd inside the Dolby Theater seemed startled and unsure of how to react.

Deadline reporter Patten said there is a lot to unpack.

"There is the fallout and aftermath — and actually I will now call it the blast radius from what happened on on Sunday night: the horrible act of violence and then the complete abdication of leadership by anybody in that room of dealing with the situation." Patten said. "And as we reported on Deadline, there were efforts by the leadership of the Academy to sort of suggest maybe something should happen. There was a lot of people talking and there were also a lot of people divided among the room and trying to communicate."

Still, Patten points out that what unfolded Sunday night took place over an extended period of time.

  • Multiple people talked to Smith after the assault.
  • Numerous awards were handed out between the incident and when best actor was announced.
  • The Academy allowed Smith to accept his award and deliver a rambling speech.
  • And many in the room gave him a standing ovation.

So what's next?
One of the people who shared details of the evening also said both Rubin and Hudson, the president and CEO of the Academy, spoke to Smith via Zoom before the Academy governors met on Tuesday.

It was unclear whether the details of that conversation were shared with the governors. Even if Smith is expelled from the Academy, he would still be eligible to be nominated for awards in the future.

What questions do you have about film, TV, music, or arts and entertainment?
John Horn, entertainment reporter and host of our weekly podcast Retake, explores whether the stories that Hollywood tells about itself really reflect what's going on?

Updated March 31, 2022 at 12:55 PM PDT
This story updated with additional details about how the Academy's request for Smith to leave was conveyed.