While opinion remains divided over Will Smith slapping Chris Rock onstage at the 94th Academy Awards, the implications for Smith’s career and image after the incident are beginning to be felt.
Though slow at first to react, for which it has faced continuing criticism, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has written to its 9,921 members to announce the launch of an inquiry into the incident, which will “take a few weeks".
The academy was roundly criticised for its initial tweet after the Independence Day star slapped Rock.
Many felt that response attempted to brush over the incident. The tweet said: “The academy does not condone violence of any form. Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.”
Oscars producer Will Packer also appeared to make light of the incident, tweeting: “Welp … I said it wouldn’t be boring.”
Actors’ union Sag-Aftra, of which Smith is a member, released a statement concerning the incident that read: “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.”
Academy launches inquiry: ‘We are upset and outraged’
Writing to their members, made up of industry players, including actors, directors and producers, the academy president David Rubin and chief executive Dawn Hudson said: “Sunday’s telecast of the 94th Oscars was meant to be a celebration of the many individuals in our community who did incredible work this past year. We are upset and outraged that those moments were overshadowed by the unacceptable and harmful behaviour on stage by a nominee.
“To be clear, we condemn Mr Smith’s actions that transpired Sunday night.”
The letter also invoked the academy’s bylaws and standards of conduct, to which its board of governors will refer when deciding on “appropriate action for Mr Smith.”
What is the academy’s code of conduct?
The organisation’s conduct code was created in 2017 in the wake of the #metoo movement and the sexual misconduct scandal that hit the industry, including the many allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein.
The code called upon its members to “behave ethically by upholding the academy’s values of respect for human dignity, inclusion, and a supportive environment that fosters creativity.”
It added: “There is no place in the Academy for people who abuse their status, power or influence in a manner that violates recognised standards of decency. The Academy is categorically opposed to any form of abuse, harassment or discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, age, religion, or nationality.”
Could Will Smith have his Oscar taken away?
“Let me say this, there are consequences. There are big consequences because nobody is OK with what happened. Nobody, nobody, nobody,” Whoopi Goldberg, a member of the academy’s 54-person board of governors said on The View this week.
Despite calls for Smith to face appropriate consequences for his actions, he is likely to remain working. With no fewer than nine projects in development, including Bad Boys 4, the release of his coming movie, Emancipation, is still scheduled for this year.
“As mad as everyone is at Will Smith,” etalk’s senior correspondent Elaine Lui told The Washington Post, “Do we honestly think no one is taking his calls?”
As the academy launches its inquiry, here are four possible outcomes Will Smith may face…
1. Stripped of his Oscar
While there have been calls for Smith to have his Best Actor Oscar for his role in King Richard taken away, this course of action is highly unlikely.
In the history of the Academy Awards, only one Oscar has ever been forcibly returned, the 1969 Best Documentary Oscar which was awarded to Young Americans, then rescinded over time frame eligibility issues.
“I think the feeling is that Oscar is for the work and he earned the Oscar, but the punishment will be for his behaviour,” former editor of The Hollywood Reporter, Matthew Belloni told WaPo.
2. Suspended or expelled from the academy
Expulsion from the academy is rare and therefore unlikely. Only two members have been permanently expelled, actor Carmine Caridi in 2004 for violating voting rules, and Harvey Weinstein in 2017. Suspension is a more likely, and temporary, outcome.
This might include being publicly reprimanded by the academy, and being unable to attend its events or be eligible for awards for a certain time period, likely six months.
3. Talk show appearance and public apology
It’s likely the actor will walk the tried-and-tested path of celebrities who have temporarily fallen out of favour with fans and peers.
Smith remains one of Hollywood's most popular, and bankable, stars, and will likely appear on a talk show to discuss the incident, such as a sit down with Oprah Winfrey, or on his wife’s Emmy-winning Red Table Talk, on which he has appeared before.
4. Barred from presenting at next year’s Oscars
With talk turning to “consequence culture, not cancel culture”, Smith may lose the privilege of presenting at the 95th Academy Awards.
Traditionally, winners in the category present awards at the Oscars the following year. Smith might lose out on the chance to present at — or at the very least attend — next year’s event.