Will Smith and Chris Rock: Where Things Stand One Year After the Oscars Slap
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As awards season heads towards the ultimate prize -- the 2023 Oscars -- it's impossible not to think back on last year's Academy Awards, which honored plenty of impressive achievements in film, but was overshadowed by the now-infamous incident in which Will Smith stormed the stage to hit Chris Rock in the face over a joke Rock made about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
The moment was the most jaw-dropping awards show incident since the La La Land/Moonlight Best Picture mixup of 2017, with many in the room wondering if it was a staged bit, before the uncomfortable silence stretched into realization. Later in the show, the awkward tension was compounded by the fact that Smith won the Oscar for Best Actor -- for his title role in the Williams' sister biopic, King Richard -- and took the stage once again, this time with a mix of joy and tearful apology.
As Chris Rock prepares for his history-making live Netflix special, Selective Outrage, it's expected that he'll address the incident at length for the first time publicly, as part of the standup set.
So, if you need a refresher, here's a look at how "The Slap" went down, and everything that's happened since:
The Slap Heard Round Hollywood happened at the 94th Academy Awards, which were held on March 27, 2022, at Los Angeles' Dolby Theatre and was hosted by the trio of Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes.
Rock took the stage midway through the ceremony to present the Oscar for Best Documentary, when he made a joke about Smith's wife. Rock quipped, "Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2, can't wait to see it," referring to Pinkett Smith's bald head. (Pinkett Smith has been open about her struggles with alopecia, an autoimmune disorder which causes bald spots and hair loss.)
The bit prompted Jada to roll her eyes. Moments later, after Rock quipped that that was "a nice [joke]" after being met with some uncomfortable reaction from the audience, he saw Smith make his way onto the stage.
Rock, who was chuckling, was then met with Smith's open-handed slap to his cheek. "Oh, wow," he immediately reacted, as Smith walked offstage.
The sound on the Oscars broadcast suddenly cut out after Rock said Smith's name in reaction -- though some foreign broadcasts aired the sound live. And as the camera panned back to the Oscar nominee, back at his seat, you could clearly read what Smith shouted at Rock.
"Leave my wife's name out of your f**king mouth!" Smith can be seen yelling back at the comedian.
"The theater was silent after Will got up and hit Chris. No one could tell if it was staged or a joke at first. Then Will started yelling at the top of his lungs and cursing out Chris. Chris was visibly shaken and the whole theater was dead silent," a source told ET at the time.
Clearly unsure how to proceed, Rock said, "That was the greatest night in the history of television," which was captured through ABC's telecast.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER
ET learned via a source that Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry had a private moment with Smith inside the theater during the commercial break following the altercation. The trio hugged and it appeared things had calmed down.
Later in the evening, Smith won the Best Actor Oscar for King Richard and was visibly emotional as he took the stage to accept the honor. Though he did not directly apologize to Rock, Smith did offer an apology to the Academy.
"I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees," he said during a moment in his emotional speech, adding that "love makes you do crazy things."
At the end of his speech, Smith did add a dose of humor. "I'm hoping that the Academy invites me back," he said through tears as he let out a chuckle.
Following the incidence, the LAPD told ET in a statement that Rock declined to file a police report in regards to the slap.
As for Smith, he continued celebrating his big night at the Vanity Fair Oscars after-party, posing with his family on the red carpet and cheerfully posing with his Oscar statuette and singing to his own song, "Summer Time" on the dance floor.
"Will walked into the Vanity Fair Oscar party with his family confidently. He was dancing and partying there and acting as though nothing happened earlier," an eyewitness told ET that night, noting the Oscar winner wasn't talking to anyone about the incident. "People were coming up to him and chatting, but they were scared to bring it up and didn't want to upset him. Everyone was pretty much ignoring the entire situation, including Will."
As for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization's official account tweeted an indirect response immediately following the telecast.
"The Academy does not condone violence of any form," read the statement. "Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world."
WHAT CONSEQUENCES FOLLOWED
Later in the week, the Academy initiated a formal review of the incident and released a statement claiming Smith was asked to leave the Oscars ceremony following the encounter, but refused.
"The Board of Governors today initiated disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Smith for violations of the Academy's Standards of Conduct, including inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior, and compromising the integrity of the Academy," the letter began.
However, two sources told ET at the time that Smith was never told point blank that he needed to leave the Oscars ceremony. Instead, at one point, it was suggested that he leave, but he stayed until the end of the show.
Oscars producer Will Packer later sat down to discuss the moment with ABC World News Tonight, explaining that LAPD officers were at the Dolby Theatre, and were willing to take Smith into custody after he struck Rock.
"They were saying, 'This is battery.' That was the word they used in that moment," Packer recalled. "They said, 'We will go get him. We are prepared. We will go get him right now. You can press charges. We can arrest him.'"
"They were laying out the options, and as they were talking, Chris was, he was being very dismissive of those options. He was like, 'No, I’m fine'... Even to the point where I said, ‘Rock, let them finish,'" Packer said. "The LAPD officers finish laying out what his options were. And they said, 'Would you like us to take any action?' And he said, 'No.'"
After calling Smith's actions "deeply shocking," the Academy's statement also apologized to Rock and the nominees, guests and viewers for what transpired during Sunday night's broadcast.
"Mr. Smith's actions at the 94th Oscars were a deeply shocking, traumatic event to witness in-person and on television. 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," the Academy went on to say before concluding their statement.
"Things unfolded in a way we could not have anticipated. While we would like to clarify that Mr. Smith was asked to leave the ceremony and refused, we also recognize we could have handled the situation differently."
On March 8, 2022, the Academy announced it was banning Smith from all Academy events for 10 years. In a letter addressed to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences family, and obtained by ET, Academy president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson said the Board of Governors meeting concluded that "for a period of 10 years from April 8, 2022, Mr. Smith shall not be permitted to attend any Academy events" including the Academy Awards.
Rubin and Hudson said that the action taken in response to 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."
The letter also expressed "deep gratitude to [Rock] for maintaining his composure under extraordinary circumstances."
In a brief statement to ET, Smith responded to the board's conclusion saying, "I accept and respect the Academy's decision."
WHAT SMITH HAS SAID
One day after the incident, Smith issued a public apology to Rock, sharing a statement to social media that read, "Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night's Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada's medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally. I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness."
Smith also apologized again to the Academy, as well as the Williams family and the cast and crew of King Richard for his behavior.
"I would also like to apologize to the Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world. I would like to apologize to the Williams Family and my King Richard Family," Smith wrote. "I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us. I am a work in progress. Sincerely, Will."
Smith later announced his resignation from the Academy on April 1, 2022, sharing a statement that insisted he would "fully accept any and all consequences for my conduct. My actions at the 94th Academy Awards presentation were shocking, painful, and inexcusable. The list of those I have hurt is long and includes Chris, his family, many of my dear friends and loved ones, all those in attendance, and global audiences at home."
"I betrayed the trust of the Academy. I deprived other nominees and winners of their opportunity to celebrate and be celebrated for their extraordinary work," the statement continued. "I am heartbroken. I want to put the focus back on those who deserve attention for their achievements and allow the Academy to get back to the incredible work it does to support creativity and artistry in film."
As such, Smith added that he would "accept any further consequences the Board deems appropriate... Change takes time and I am committed to doing the work to ensure that I never again allow violence to overtake reason."
In a statement to ET, David Rubin, President, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said, "We have received and accepted Mr. Will Smith's immediate resignation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We will continue to move forward with our disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Smith for violations of the Academy's Standards of Conduct." One week later, the Academy announced it was banning Smith from all Academy events for 10 years.
In July 2022, Smith shared a deeply personal video to his YouTube channel, apologizing to Rock once again and expressing his remorse.
"I hate when I let people down. So it hurts, it hurts me psychologically and emotionally to know I didn't live up to people's image and impression of me," Smith told viewers in the video confessional. "And the work I'm trying to do is, I am deeply remorseful and I'm trying to be remorseful without being ashamed of myself. I'm human and I made a mistake, and I'm trying not to think of myself as a piece of s**t."
Smith got emotional while addressing the incident in his first post-Oscars interview, when he joined Trevor Noah on The Daily Show in November 2022.
"You are asking, what did I learn, and it is that we just got to be nice to each other, man," he stressed. "I guess the thing that was most painful for me is, I took my hard and made it hard for other people. I understood the idea, they say hurt people hurt people."
Looking back on his own past, and the violence he said he witnessed at home, Smith said everything just "bubbled up" in that moment.
"It was a lot of things. It was the little boy that watched his father beat up his mother. All of that just bubbled up in that moment," Smith said. "I just -- that is not who I want to be."
In March 2023, Smith made his first awards show speech following the Oscars incident. He took the stage at the 14th annual African American Film Critics Association Awards in Beverly Hills, California, to accept the Beacon Award with director Antoine Fuqua for their harrowing slavery film, Emancipation. Smith also won the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Peter at the NAACP Image Awards less than a week earlier, but was absent from the ceremony.
“Emancipation was the most individual difficult film of my entire career," Smith said in his speech, steering clear of any references to his personal life. "It's really difficult to transport a modern mind to that time period. It's difficult to imagine that, that level of inhumanity."
WHAT ROCK HAS SAID
Rock kept a low profile in the days following the incident, and refused to speak about it during his first standup show back onstage, which took place the Wednesday after the Oscars -- and featured an increase in the comedian's security.
"I have a whole show… that I wrote before the weekend, so, if you came here for that I'm still processing it," Rock told the crowd at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston. "I will talk about it, and it will be serious, and it will be funny, but not tonight."
At a show in late March 2022, Rock was interrupted by two hecklers who each loudly proclaimed "F**k Will Smith" during his set. The first time, a source told ET, Rock laughed it off, joking, "Where were y'all at the Oscars?" The second time, Rock diffused the situation by saying, "No, no, no."
"Chris is not going to take the bait or engage with any hecklers," the source noted at the time, adding that, as Rock mentioned at the beginning of each performance, he had a whole show of new material that he wanted to perform, rather than rehashing the slap every night.
At a later show, in Atlantic City, Rock joked that he was too close to Smith's hometown of Philadelphia to "get into it" regarding the slap, and stuck to his planned show. He also poked fun at the incident after Dave Chappelle was rushed by a knife-wielding attacker during a set at the Hollywood Bowl in May 2022. Chappelle was unharmed, but when Rock -- who was also performing at the Netflix Is a Joke festival -- took the stage to check on him, he joked to the crowd, "Was that Will Smith?"
In May 2022, a source told ET that Rock still wasn't ready to address the slap publicly -- although members of his family did, including his mother, Rosalie, and his brother and fellow comedian, Tony.
"Chris is really in a groove right now and is building up material for a Netflix special. He's continued to remain focused on his show and not address the slap personally, but he's very close with his mother and respects what she has to say," the source shared. "The truth is the assault really did impact a lot of people, not just Chris. His mother will likely come out to watch a show soon."
The source said that Chris appeared to be in good spirits and had started welcoming visitors backstage at his shows again.
"He's back to having visitors backstage and is always in a great mood after the show. He's aware of the other stars who have started speaking about it and taking sides, but he isn't getting caught up in that," the source continued. "He's sort of operating in a bubble right now, staying laser focused on his work."
While a source in July 2022 told ET that Rock was "unconcerned" with the Smiths' attempts to reconcile and had "no plans" to reach out -- even turning down an interview with Oprah Winfrey about the incident -- he continued to off-handedly reference the slap in his standup shows, joking referring to being "smacked by Suge Smith" and saying of cancel culture, "anyone who says words hurt has never been punched in the face."
Rock finally publicly aired his grievances in his live Netflix special, Selective Outrage, which made him the first comedian to perform live on the streaming service on March 4.
"Everybody f**kin' knows. Yes, it happened, like a year ago, I got smacked at the f**king Oscars by this motherf**ker," he said of Smith.
"People are like, 'Did it hurt? It still hurts!" Rock said with a laugh. "I've got 'Summertime' ringing in my ears."
However, Rock insisted that he's "not a victim."
"You will never see me on Oprah or Gayle crying. Never gonna happen," he insisted."I took that hit like Pacquiao, motherf**ker."
Rock also poked fun at the size difference between the two men before getting more personal, speculating that Smith's attack was about him "practicing selective outrage."
"Everybody knows that had nothing to do with me. I didn't have any entanglements," he said, referring to the cheating rumors that bubbled up for the couple in June 2020.
"His wife was f**king her son's friend," Rock told the crowd. "Now, I normally would not talk about this shit, But for some reason, these n***as put that shit on the internet. I have no idea why two people that talented would do something that low-down."
"We've all been cheated on, none of us have every been interviewed by the person who cheated on us," he added. "Why the f**k would you do that shit? She hurt him way more than I did... Everybody called him a bitch, and who's he hit? Me!"
Rock closed his set by referring back to an earlier Oscars dispute between himself and the couple, recalling how Pinkett Smith said Rock shouldn't host the Oscars because Smith wasn't nominated for his role in Concussion, amid the "#OscarsSoWhite" backlash in 2016.
"Nobody's picking on this bitch," Rock said "She started this shit... And then this n***a gives me a concussion!"
"I love Will Smith… he makes great movies. I rooted for Will Smith my whole life," he added. "And now, I watched Emancipation just so I could watch him get whooped."
As for why he didn't fight back, Rock used that answer to deliver his final jab. "Because I got parents! Because I was raised!" he said. "And you know what my parents taught me? Don't fight in front of white people!"
After the comedy special, a source told ET, "Chris had been very focused on this comedy special for the past year and his hard work paid off and now he can relax."
The source explained that this special was “a big deal” not only because it was a live streaming event, which was unprecedented, but it was the first time he addressed “the slap” in any meaningful way. "He said everything he wanted to say,” the source says. "It was funny, self-deprecating, and thought-provoking.” Now, "Chris is ready to move on."
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
For the first time in Oscar history, a "crisis team" will be in place for the upcoming 95th Academy Awards, a move enacted in the wake of the slap.
Glenn Weiss, a veteran live events director and multi EMMY-winning producer who will executive produce the March 12 ceremony, spoke to ET about the reasoning for the plan's implementation. While Weiss didn't directly reference Smith slapping Rock during last year's ceremony -- a controversy that continues to reverberate -- the 61-year-old producer said the crisis team is another safety layer.
"We go in with a really good plan for the known," Weiss told ET, "but you have to be ready for what may transpire with what you didn't plan."
If anyone's prepared for the unknown it's Weiss, as well as host Jimmy Kimmel, who has not only hosted multiple Oscar shows but is also comfortable in front of a live audience. That's a special skill Academy CEO Bill Kramer touched upon when speaking toTime about why Kimmel was selected to host this year's show.
"It’s so important to have a host who knows how to handle live television and a live audience. That's a very specific skill, and there aren't a lot of people who can do that well," Kramer told the magazine.
As for what the "crisis team" has prepared for, Kramer explained that the crisis team has "many plans in place."
"We've run many scenarios. So it is our hope that we will be said for anything that we may not anticipate right now but that we're planning for just in case it does happen," he added.
The 95th Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will be handed out live at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on March 12 starting at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on ABC. In the meantime, stay tuned to ETonline.com for complete Oscars coverage.
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