Could Will Smith be stripped of his Oscar? The academy meets to decide
Nearly two weeks after he smacked Chris Rock on stage, Will Smith is set to learn whether Academy Awards organizers will punish him with a slap on the wrist — or something more severe.
The governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will meet on Friday to discuss what disciplinary action, if any, to take against Smith for slapping Rock during the Oscars ceremony on March 27.
Moments earlier, Rock, the host, made a joke about the shaved head of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who has alopecia, which caused her to lose her hair.
Minutes later, Smith was back on stage, winning best actor for King Richard. Smith later apologized and resigned as a member of the academy — a group of nearly 10,000 film industry insiders who vote for Oscar winners.
Weighing its options
Hollywood-watchers say the academy is walking a tightrope: how can it take a stand now after failing to act against other members’ misconduct for decades?
The academy’s code of conduct lists possible sanctions ranging from a written warning to permanent ineligibility for future awards.
Clayton Davis, senior awards editor at the trade publication Variety, says Smith’s resignation from the academy may have limited its options, or appetite, for penalties.
One option, he says, is barring Smith from future ceremonies.
“It could be something as little as [just barring him] next year, because traditionally the best actor winner presents best actress the following year, so he would be prevented from doing that, upwards to multiple ceremonies in the future,” said Davis.
In its 94-year history, the academy has only expelled five members — most of them, very recently.
Actor Carmine Caridi (The Godfather) was booted in 2004 after illegal copies of Oscar-nominated films were found online and traced back to his screeners — advance copies provided to academy members in order to vote for winners.
Producer Harvey Weinstein was kicked out in 2017 after dozens of women accused him of sexual assault or harassment.
The following year, actor Bill Cosby was expelled after his conviction for sexual assault, which has since been overturned.
Director Roman Polanski was also expelled in 2018 — more than 40 years after he pleaded guilty to raping a 13-year-old girl and fled to France, where he remains a fugitive. Yet in 2003, the academy awarded Polanski its best director statuette for The Pianist.
In 2021, cinematographer Adam Kimmel was also expelled after Variety revealed he had pleaded guilty to raping an underage girl years before joining the academy.
Since most of those expulsions involved sexual offences, there are doubts that Smith, who is not facing criminal charges, would face the same penalty.
“To be in that class of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby —that’s a huge, huge leap [from Smith’s actions],” said Emmanuel Noisette, a film critic for TheMovieBlog.com.
Some have called for Smith to be stripped of his Oscar. That’s not also likely, Davis says, because Weinstein and Polanksi still have theirs.
Only one Oscar has been rescinded. In 1969, Young Americans had to hand back its best documentary award, because it had been released two years earlier and was therefore ineligible.
Both Davis and Noisette say, even though Smith is no longer a member of the academy, he will likely still be eligible to win future Oscars.
“He could still go out there and make a great movie, and be nominated, and win. He just would not be part of the voting body of the membership,” Noisette said.
Should others face punishment?
As the academy deliberates, there are fresh calls for it to also belatedly punish other members.
Some want actor and filmmaker Mel Gibson stripped of his 1995 Oscar for best director, which he won for Braveheart, over his 2006 antisemitic tirade at a Los Angeles police officer. Gibson went on to receive a best director nod for Hacksaw Ridge in 2017.
Adrien Brody also faced no consequences when he grabbed and kissed Halle Berry on stage after she announced his best actor win for Polanski’s The Pianist.
Both Noisette and Davis say race could prove a factor in the academy’s decision: how can it make an example of Smith, a Black man, when white men have dodged punishment?
One mitigating factor for Smith, Noisette suggests, is the provocation of Rock’s joke, which was reportedly not part of his script.
At the same time, he adds, the academy’s decision will also be “a branding issue,” as it works to overhaul its public image from being lax on misconduct to upholding values.
“It’s not just about Will Smith. It’s also about how [the academy is] perceived … Let’s be honest, they care about their image. This is Hollywood, after all.”
The academy did not respond to a request for comment.