Will Smith is banned for 10 years from academy events, including the Oscars

Chris Rock (left) and Will Smith at the 94th Academy Awards following Smith's slap of Rock.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

The film academy delivered a harsh punishment after actor Will Smith’s Oscars slap of host and comedian Chris Rock on March 27.

Nearly two weeks after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars over a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Friday it is forbidding Smith from attending any academy events, including the Oscars, for 10 years.

“This action we are taking today in response to Will Smith’s behavior is a step toward a larger goal of protecting the safety of our performers and guests, and restoring trust in the academy,” the organization’s president, David Rubin, and CEO, Dawn Hudson, said in a open letter to members following a meeting of the organization’s 54-member board. “We also hope this can begin a time of healing and restoration for all involved and impacted.”

Smith, 54, quickly issued a statement Friday that read: “I accept and respect the academy’s decision.”

The news comes one week after Smith — who went on to win the lead actor Oscar less than an hour after striking Rock — resigned from the academy, calling his actions “shocking, painful, and inexcusable.” By resigning, Smith preempted what many expected to be his potential suspension or expulsion from the academy. But the organization, under pressure to hold Smith accountable for the violent outburst that derailed the Oscars and stunned millions of viewers, was determined to press ahead with the disciplinary proceedings it announced the day after the ceremony.

With its actions Friday, the academy stopped short of rendering Smith ineligible for consideration for future Oscar nominations. The actor has a film from Apple called “Emancipation” slated for release this year.

In the run-up to the board meeting Friday — which was moved up from April 18 following Smith’s resignation — questions swirled over what steps the academy would take to punish one of the film industry’s most bankable and generally well-liked stars. The organization’s code of conduct, enacted in 2017 following the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct scandal, gives academy leaders wide latitude in the disciplinary measures they can undertake for violations of the group’s standards, ranging from a simple reprimand to expulsion and loss of eligibility to receive future Oscars.

In the wake of the Oscars, the academy faced fierce criticism over its handling of the incident, with many questioning why Smith was not removed from the Dolby Theatre after striking Rock and yelling profanities from his seat. In a statement last week, the organization said Smith “was asked to leave the ceremony but refused,” even as it expressed some misgivings over its own decisions that night. But conflicting accounts quickly emerged, with Smith’s camp disputing the nature of the academy’s request, further muddying the picture of what happened backstage in the tense and chaotic minutes after the altercation.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith at the Oscars before things got heated.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In their letter Friday, academy leaders expressed regret over their own handling of the incident and expressed gratitude to Rock for “maintaining his composure under extraordinary circumstances.”

“During our telecast, we did not adequately address the situation in the room,” Rubin and Hudson wrote. “For this, we are sorry. This was an opportunity for us to set an example for our guests, viewers and our academy family around the world, and we fell short — unprepared for the unprecedented.”

Since adopting its code of conduct, the academy has expelled only three people: Weinstein, director Roman Polanski and comedian-author Bill Cosby. Weinstein and Polanski still have their Oscar trophies.

The organization has only revoked one Oscar in its nearly century-long history, taking back the award for the 1969 documentary “Young Americans” after it was deemed to be ineligible for that year’s honor.

For Smith and the academy, the fallout from the incident has been severe, opening up an unprecedented rift between the organization that serves as the public face of the film industry and one of that industry’s biggest stars. It remains to be seen whether that rift can be repaired.

Speaking to The Times in advance of Friday’s meeting, one academy governor, who declined to speak on the record due to the sensitivity of the situation, expressed hope that the board’s decision will help close one of the ugliest chapters in the organization’s history: “It’s about moving forward. We love our show and we have to be protective of the academy. I think we have to do what feels right.”

Here is the complete text of the academy’s letter:

Open Letter to Our Academy Family

The 94th Oscars were meant to be a celebration of the many individuals in our community who did incredible work this past year; however, those moments were overshadowed by the unacceptable and harmful behavior we saw Mr. Smith exhibit on stage.

During our telecast, we did not adequately address the situation in the room. For this, we are sorry. This was an opportunity for us to set an example for our guests, viewers and our Academy family around the world, and we fell short — unprepared for the unprecedented.

Today, the Board of Governors convened a meeting to discuss how best to respond to Will Smith’s actions at the Oscars, in addition to accepting his resignation. The Board has decided, for a period of 10 years from April 8, 2022, Mr. Smith shall not be permitted to attend any Academy events or programs, in person or virtually, including but not limited to the Academy Awards.

We want to express our deep gratitude to Mr. Rock for maintaining his composure under extraordinary circumstances. We also want to thank our hosts, nominees, presenters and winners for their poise and grace during our telecast.

This action we are taking today in response to Will Smith’s behavior is a step toward a larger goal of protecting the safety of our performers and guests, and restoring trust in the Academy. We also hope this can begin a time of healing and restoration for all involved and impacted.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

Latest Stories