Prior to the 94th Academy Awards, Will Smith was one of the most beloved Hollywood power players. To his delight and ours, he was capping off an outstanding year of professional accomplishments including a bestselling book and an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Richard Williams, the father of tennis icons Venus and Serena Williams, in the movie King Richard. Will Smith’s performance in this movie is simply phenomenal.
The problem now though is that his violent assault against Chris Rock was just as disgraceful as his acting performance was admirable. And this, this violent assault against Chris Rock—a towering and beloved comedian—will forever tarnish Will Smith’s career legacy.
Will Smith attended the Oscars as a larger-than-life figure and left looking small.
Will Smith’s popularity has plunged 30% after Oscar slap. Sadly now, Smith—a larger-than-life kind of celebrity and personality—just looks small.
Will Smith looks small because:
- After slapping Chris Rock in the face and mouth, Smith returned to his seat and freely proceeded to loudly threaten Rock with orders and profanities.
- Will Smith lacked a basic appreciation for the fact that he had just violently assaulted someone and disrupted the entire Oscars to do so. Given this, he should have excused himself and left the ceremony (even if simply voluntarily).
- Smith went on to deliver an acceptance speech for his best-actor Academy win and took up far more time than was allotted to make excuses and blame others for his violent behavior and threats.
- He never once apologized to Chris Rock that night—the night of the Oscars—after committing what police on the scene describe as battery, indeed a criminal act. Smith also never mentioned Rock’s name during his speech.
- Will Smith looks small because he portrayed an utter lack of remorse for the assault he perpetrated then had the audacity to attend the Vanity Fair Oscar party. Smith behaved as though he was the life of the party and danced to “Gettin’ Jiggy with It” as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
- He looks small because he appears to have had no shame for his behavior. And though he mentioned Chris Rock in the written apology he posted the day after the Oscars, he still hadn’t actually reached out directly to Chris Rock at that time.
- From the resignation statement Smith submitted to the Academy, it’s apparent that his messaging has improved, but it’s still unclear whether or not he’s yet to actually reach out directly to Chris Rock or those who lost their Oscar moment because of his behavior.
This is who looks worse than Will Smith after the Oscars.
As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says, “Will Smith did a bad, bad thing,” but he’s certainly not the only one who looks bad. While these people may not have committed criminal behavior related to this event, they failed in other ways that will have lasting repercussions.
Will Packer, the producer of the 2022 Academy Awards
Let’s start here. Will Packer is proud of increasing diversity and viewer ratings for the Oscars by nearly 60% over the prior year numbers, but he should know that a boost in ratings doesn’t make the violence okay, and it doesn’t absolve him of his leadership failings that night.
To be fair, Will Packer might be one hell of a good producer under ordinary circumstances, but the greatest producers must possess demonstrable crisis management, decision-making and leadership abilities. Sadly, it appears that Packer deferred these aspects of his job to Chris Rock, the comedian, presenter and assault victim.
When interviewed by TJ Holmes with ABC News, Will Packer acknowledged that it was indeed Chris Rock who saved the Oscars and salvaged what would be left of the production. Given that Will Packer knows this, he should know better than to tout ratings and celebrate how he and his team were able to do things no one else had done after what occurred Oscar night.
Sure, human beings are drawn to spectacles—including, and especially, violent ones—but crisis leaders don’t consider events a success just because a lot of people watched it. Viewership numbers should only be celebrated after you’ve demonstrated the ability to lead a production where the hosts and all attendees and workers can go home without having been violently assaulted during the event. Given that no one can control another person’s behavior, attendees should at least have been assured that Packer or someone else would immediately remove any perpetrator upon learning an assault occurs.
The metric that trumps all other metrics is safety, and on this measure, Packer dropped the ball by allowing Will Smith to remain in the Dolby Theatre, receive his award, get a standing ovation and give that overly-long, blame-the-world speech.
Packer left Chris Rock—the victim—in charge of deciding what next step to take while Rock was fresh from being hit and likely still feeling the burning sensation in his face and jaw area. I’m sure Packer feels he was there for Chris Rock in some way, but he wasn’t there for Chris Rock or others the way he needed to be.
The Academy and its leadership
The Academy just plain failed. As the world watched this episode of workplace violence, they did nothing to make Chris Rock (or anyone else for that matter) feel safer.
The most important job of Academy leaders—the Board of Governors—during the Oscars wasn’t to distribute awards, hand out luxury goodie bags or network with the famous and powerful. Their most important job was to make sure every single person at the Oscars would be safe from assault and, failing that, to immediately remove anyone who would dare assault or threaten another person in attendance.
Their second most important job was to hire a production team that would fulfill this goal and prioritize it as a forethought rather than an afterthought to increasing viewership. The Academy and its leaders failed at both of these goals.
During the night of one of the worst, if not the worst, violent incidents to ever happen during an awards show, the Academy failed to pull rank and make the right calls after their producer dropped the ball. Academy leaders permitted a violent assaulter to remain in the same room as the victim he assaulted. At that point, whatever they thought they knew about Will Smith should have gone out the window and protocols for safety, decisions to prevent further workplace violence and empathy for Chris Rock and everyone else should have prevailed.
We’ve learned about the discussion and debate that the Academy had around removing or not removing Will Smith. According to Page Six, the Academy is lying about asking Smith to leave, and Will Packer reportedly told Will Smith he could stay. No matter how anyone tries to slice it, this was an egregious error and lapse of judgement by the Academy’s leadership.
Imagine how betrayed Chris Rock must have felt standing there after just being attacked and then watching as no one, literally no one, walked over to remove Will Smith or publicly advocate for him.
The Academy gave Will Smith, the perpetrator, the same rights and privileges (actually more given that speech and standing ovation) than they gave Chris Rock. And now their blaming Chris Rock somehow for Will Smith being permitted to remain. It’s downright appalling. No competent leader would ever put that burden on the victim or expect the victim, with the pressure of his peers, colleagues and the whole world watching, to make that kind of decision or even be asked to.
After what’s now being called the slap heard around world, we all know that the Academy failed miserably at its job. You can’t hold an event where the perpetrator of a visible and unquestionable assault gets to remain in the the room to taunt and threaten his victim and then receive an award to a standing ovation and call it a success by any metric. Once something like that happens, regardless of what else gets accomplished, you will be deemed a failure with that event.
Everyone who gave Will Smith a Standing Ovation
Jim Carrey and Wanda Sykes are spot on in their assessments. The fact that the audience gave a violent perpetrator a standing ovation after they themselves had just witnessed his violence with their own eyes is sickening. This is why this isn’t just a stain against Will Smith. It’s a stain against the Hollywood industry as a whole and the Academy itself.
Will Packer, the Academy and its leaders look worse because they had a real responsibility here, and they failed to own their power to lead during the crisis. And the audience looks worse because many perceive the standing ovation as condoning Will Smith’s behavior (at worst) or showing a stunning indifference to it (at best) in a way that this particular audience would likely never tolerate if the perpetrator had been someone like Donald Trump, for example.
This is what Will Packer, the Academy and the Oscar audience should have done on Oscar night instead.
- The very first thing Packer should have done was eject Will Smith and check on and protect Chris Rock.
- Packer should have then gone directly to the stage and announced how horrified he was and how unacceptable Will Smith’s actions were. He also should have used this moment to apologize to Chris Rock and his family, the hosts, the presenters, the nominees, winners, all attendees and viewers.
- He should have assured everyone in the building that he would take additional steps for the safety and security of everyone throughout night.
- Finally, Will Packer should have made sure everyone knew that both he and Academy leaders found Will Smith’s behavior appalling and assured everyone that it would be dealt with accordingly.
- The Academy should have immediately suspended or expelled Will Smith from membership pending further review.
- Instead of the weak statement the Academy posted the night of the incident that didn’t even mention Will Smith or Chris Rock’s name (could it be any weaker?), the Academy should have explicitly condemned Will Smith’s actions, publicly apologized to Chris Rock and posted the message on every single social media account and website they have. They Academy should have also put out an immediate press release showing their support for victims and stance against violence. The academy should have acknowledged Chris Rock’s trauma that night specifically.
- The Oscar audience should not have stood for or applauded Will Smith at all, and they should have responded to his violence the same way they would had the person cleaning their tables just all of a sudden started attacking one of them. They should have given more than lip service to the values they espouse about violence being wrong and victims needing protection, etc.
Ultimately, everyone involved should have responded to the violent assault of Chris Rock (a Black man) with the same urgency, intensity and outrage that they would have shown had he or his attacker been any other ethnicity, race or gender.
They should have responded by protecting and supporting the victim as opposed to consoling and coddling the attacker and then debating
- whether the victim deserved to be physically assaulted in the first place for using a joke that may have offended someone.
- whether the perpetrator had some mental break, marital strain or other psychological reason that could excuse or justify a physically violent attack against another human being.
- or whether or not the victim is worthy of the time it would take for the producer, the Academy and the audience to pause to acknowledge what happened to him and to buttress his dignity as a human being who had just been attacked.
To be clear none if this was done on the night of the Oscars. If only they had responded to this situation with effective leadership and decision making, they would have sent the proper message to victims of violence. And most importantly, they would have provided Chris Rock the space to process what had just happened to him as opposed to worrying about keeping the Oscars’ program on track and moving things along as if nothing even happened.
Chris Rock had Will Packer’s back, and he had the Academy’s back. Who had Chris Rock’s back?
Smith’s behavior was just a stunning display of toxic masculinity, entitlement and narcissism, and when you add in the knowledge that Smith, himself, is okay with bald jokes so long as he’s the one delivering them, it’s also a stunning display of hypocrisy.
Whatever you think of Chris Rock’s G.I. Jane joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith was wholly wrong for violently assaulting him. Full stop.
There are all sorts of debates going on about whether or not Chris Rock’s G.I. Jane joke was inappropriate, insensitive or downright offensive. There is also reporting that Chris Rock never knew about Pinkett Smith’s alopecia hair condition. While a good conversation can be had about those who suffer with alopecia, in this context, the debate only serves as a distraction in an effort to deflect from and justify Will Smith’s violence.
Even if it was a horrible joke, it was not a violent one. Chris Rock did not physically attack Jada Pinkett Smith, and he never even attempted to get in her face or use such threatening words or language to reasonably cause Will Smith to use violence in her defense. Whatever the joke was, there is absolutely nothing equal about what Rock and Smith did that Oscar night.
The Academy needs to honor Chris Rock.
Packer is right about this—Chris Rock’s took action that allowed the show to go on. “He saved the Oscars.”
If Chris Rock had physically defended himself against Will Smith (which he had every right to do), attendees and viewers would have likely witnessed an all-out brawl with two men—two Black men at that—on the Academy Award stage just fighting it out. And the only reason we didn’t witness that was because Chris Rock took the higher road and displayed an uncanny sense of resilience, emotional intelligence and leadership.
Furthermore, Chris Rock declined to press criminal charges even after the police confirmed that what Smith did constituted a crime and offered to forcibly arrest and remove Will Smith from the event. Though, the police could have just gone ahead and arrested or at least removed Will Smith since they witnessed the crime. Surely, they would have the person had been someone of less power, you think?
So what’s next? We all get to wonder if and when the Academy will honor Chris Rock for his leadership! When will they honor him for saving the Oscars? Let’s hope they recover some of their own honor by stepping up and doing it soon.
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