Marshall Herskovitz, who is president emeritus of the Producers Guild of America, was one of the few to speak out on Twitter: “I call upon the Academy, of which I am a member, to take disciplinary action against Will Smith,” Herskovitz wrote. “He disgraced our entire community tonight.”
Hollywood’s powerbrokers, too, were by and large aghast at the King Richard star’s actions. “He could have said something from his seat,” says one executive. “Instead he walked those 20 or so paces to the stage and struck Rock.”
The incident occurred after Rock gestured to Pinkett Smith and said, “Can’t wait for GI Jane 2,” in an apparent reference to the actress sporting a shaved head like Demi Moore’s character in the film GI Jane. Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia, which results in hair loss for those afflicted with the condition. It is unclear if Rock knew of the actress’ condition.
Sources say the joke was not part of the rehearsals earlier in the week.
Although Smith apologized to the Academy when he mounted the stage to accept his best actor trophy to a somewhat muted standing ovation, he didn’t offer any sort of mea culpa to Rock himself. (The night after the Oscars on Monday evening, Smith offered a more direct apology to Rock via an online statement).
Others who spoke with Rolling Stone felt that the disruption was so shocking that it overshadowed the winners who followed, particularly Questlove for the documentary Summer of Soul, as well as best picture winner Coda. According to a person in the room during Questlove’s speech, attendees were busy watching replays of the dramatic moment on their phones.
Apple, the studio behind Coda — who celebrates the momentous moment of being the first streamer to nab the best picture award — now finds itself in the awkward position of shepherding Smith’s next film, the 2023 awards-season hopeful Emancipation.
Both Smith and Rock skipped the Governor’s Ball immediately following the telecast, the former a glaring omission given that winners typically head to that party first for their victory lap. Smith also was a no-show for Warner Bros.’ Oscar party at Isabel, as were Venus and Serena Williams, whose family’s life story serves as the basis for King Richard.
Smith did show up at the Vanity Fair party close to 1 a.m., after the Williams sisters had decamped. To those there, he conducted himself like nothing had happened, dancing to some of his greatest hits from his rap career.
Though Smith returned to his seat post-slapping and carried on as usual, he likely won’t be able to avoid career repercussions, says crisis publicist Howard Bragman.
“Will Smith, who had been Tom Hanks steady, had a Kanye moment at the Academy Awards that has raised all sorts of questions about his judgment and his career and will cause him to be dissected like a frog in a high school science project over the next days and weeks,” says Bragman, who has repped such scrutinized celebrities as Sharon Osbourne after she stepped down from CBS’ The Talk last year amid allegations of racism and bullying.
As the reverberations of Slapgate continue throughout the film industry and well beyond, the Academy is weighing its options on how to address Smith’s violent outburst.
A source familiar with the deliberations says the Academy has launched an official review into whether Smith broke any of the non-profit organization’s bylaws when he ascended the stage, sucker-slapped Rock, and returned to his seat only to begin shouting expletives at the comedian during the live Oscars broadcast. The review is expected to take weeks rather than days. Academy brass have been in heated discussions for much of the day.
At this point, the Academy is only offering a statement that it released on Monday. “The Academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show,” the statement read. “We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our Bylaws, Standards of Conduct, and California law.”