Fallout from The Slap, as it is now known, continues as the Academy board of governors and leadership had an emergency call on Monday about Will Smith and what to do since he struck Chris Rock in front of 1000+ of his peers and also a live television audience of millions around the world. They are reportedly discussing sanctions, including suspending Smith’s membership from the Academy or barring him from future Academy events, but probably not revoking his Best Actor Oscar. Whatever happens next, it won’t happen fast. And THAT is a problem, too.
The Oscars are a behemoth, and the Academy is a leviathan, and the whole thing is rickety with age and some traditions have become threadbare in the 21st century as social change is exponentially faster now than it was even 20 years ago, aided by the internet and digital communication that allows us to react and process events collectively. But the Academy is not structured to move fast, as evidenced by Sunday night. Apparently, they “seriously discussed” removing Smith from the show, but it was “borderline impossible” to get everyone who needed to make that call together and agree on a course of action within mere minutes. Which is why they should have cut the broadcast! At least buy yourself a few extra minutes to act. Maybe the problem isn’t that the Academy by-laws don’t cover someone striking a presenter during the Oscars, maybe the problem is that there is no mechanism for someone to act quickly in the event of an unprecedented occurrence.
Let’s be clear, the time for the Academy leadership to react was on Sunday night, but they did nothing, the Oscars carried on like nothing happened, culminating in Smith winning Best Actor and getting a standing ovation and giving a long speech-cum-apology in which he never mentioned Chris Rock, though he has now apologized to Rock, the Williams sisters, Richard Williams, and the Academy on Instagram:
As I said before, the show continuing on like nothing happened only added to the surrealness of the event, and fair or not, it now casts any action the Academy takes as not only too little too late, but as a kind of make-up for their inaction on Sunday night. The time for leadership was then, now it just feels like scrambling to cover their asses because people are still in shock about what happened.
Yesterday, some people took issue that I seem to think Smith should face no consequence for what he did. I don’t think that, I just don’t think legal action is the appropriate level of response, not least because Chris Rock declined to press charges but also because jumping to “arrest this Black man” is a bit troubling, too. Like I said, this is a sad situation, it’s a calamity for everyone, and I think we have to ask ourselves what we want to see come out of this. Is it the further humiliation of Will Smith? He’s never going to live this down. His biggest moment is forever tainted by his own regrettable actions. He’ll be apologizing, in one way or another, for the rest of his life. Will the Academy suspending his membership for a period of time satisfy people? It’s too little, too late, but it’s something official, anyway.
Much of the response I’ve seen, both directly and just floating in the general “discourse”, is totally and frankly willfully lacking in nuance. A simple binary is not going to work here, this entire situation is the definition of “two things can be true”.
Two things can be true that:
- Chris Rock shouldn’t have made that joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair.
- Will Smith shouldn’t have hit Chris Rock.
- “Love made me do it” is a toxic self-defense that echoes the language of abusers.
- Jumping from that to “Will Smith is an abuser” is a HUGE leap and some of y’all are plummeting to your metaphorical deaths right now.
- If you think Smith should face a legal charge, that doesn’t make you racist.
- The collective response that cops should have been called has racial connotations.
- Black women are historically, socially, legally, emotionally, mentally, and physically unprotected in society.
- That doesn’t make what Will Smith did okay.
To quote Ineye Komonibo, “Black women deserve protection. Slapping someone in public isn’t okay. Disrespecting Black women should have real consequences. ‘Love’ isn’t an excuse for violence. All of these things can be true at the same time.”
Seeing Will Smith hit someone on live TV and then him and everyone else just carry on like nothing happened—he was partying by the end of the night—was bizarre and maddening. It made us question what we just saw, and undoubtedly has contributed to a wild range of reactions. But I just keep circling back to what we would like to see come out of this. For my part, I can’t think of a worse outcome for a public figure than a lifetime spent apologizing for the same thing, over and over, in ways big and small, literal and abstract. But from the perspective of the Academy, how could this lead to anything but total, complete overhaul? My concern is that they will do what they did Sunday night, and try to carry on like nothing happened, like this is some kind of minor blip they can “fix” at the next Oscars.
We already know what that will look like. Smith and Rock, on stage together, making some terrible joke about The Slap. The groundwork has already been laid, P. Diddy told Page Six that “[it’s] not a problem. That’s over,” adding, “It’s all love,” and, “They’re brothers.” Well, Diddy did promise they’d work it out “like a family” from the Dolby stage, so I guess that happened. And now they can move on, Will Smith can receive his scolding from the Academy, and next year, they’ll try and pretend this wasn’t an utterly bizarre thing to happen that should have led to an immediate response, not a dithering, maybe even days or weeks later correction that will never get the same level of attention as the moment the Oscars rolled on like nothing happened. Two things can be true—the Academy should have acted then, and whatever they do now will never be viewed as enough.