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Will Smith Apologizes for Hitting Chris Rock as Academy Condemns His Act

Meanwhile, Jada Pinkett Smith says she's here for a "season of healing."

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
3 min read

Will Smith slaps Chris Rock during Sunday night's Oscars ceremony. 

Myung Chun/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Will Smith apologized on Instagram on Monday for slapping comedian Chris Rock during Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony after Rock made a joke about Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. 

"My behavior at last night's Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable," Will Smith wrote. "Jokes at my expense are 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."

Smith also went on to apologize to the Academy, the show's producers, attendees and viewers. He also apologized to the family of Richard, Venus and Serena Williams. Smith won the best actor Oscar for portraying Richard Williams in the film King Richard shortly after the slap.

"I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us," he said, referring to the team behind the King Richard film. I am a work in progress."

And on Tuesday, Jada Pinkett Smith herself posted a vague Instagram message that seemed to address the event, writing, "This is a season for healing and I'm here for it."

Also on Monday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, presenter of the awards, issued a statement condemning Smith's actions, and more consequences may be forthcoming.

"The Academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night's show," the statement said, according to CNN. "We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law."

CNN reported Monday that at least a dozen Academy members met virtually on Monday morning to discuss the group's response, with unnamed sources calling the meeting "heated" and "divided." According to CNN, this was a group of high-profile members who met on their own, while The Hollywood Reporter reports the Academy's leadership held an emergency phone call about how to sanction Smith. According to that report, Smith may be suspended as an Academy member but is unlikely to have his Oscar for best actor revoked.

The Academy didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Background on the slap

Will Smith's wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, has short hair as a result of the condition alopecia, which causes drastic hair loss. While roasting various celebrities in a comedy monologue, Chris Rock said, "Jada, I love you. GI Jane 2, can't wait to see you," referring to Demi Moore's military buzz haircut in the 1997 film G.I. Jane. Will Smith appeared to laugh at first while Jada Pinkett Smith rolled her eyes, but then Will Smith strode on stage and hit Rock on live television in a moment that surprised viewers, many of whom thought it was scripted.

While the sound quickly got shut off on the US telecast, Australian and Japanese viewers heard Smith tell Rock twice, "Keep my wife's name out of your fucking mouth." 

Rock declined to file a police report about the incident, according to a statement from the Los Angeles Police Department.

After the Oscars, the Academy Awards tweeted a statement that referred to the incident in the vaguest of terms, saying, "The Academy does not condone violence of any form. 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."

The evening grew even more complicated when Smith won statue for best actor for his role as Richard Williams, father of tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams, in the film King Richard, meaning he returned to the stage not long after the slap.

"Art imitates life," Smith said in his acceptance speech. "I look like the crazy father, just like Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things." 

Richard Williams, 80, told NBC News via his son that he didn't approve of violence.

"We don't know all the details of what happened," Williams' son, Chavoita LeSane, said in a statement from his father. "But we don't condone anyone hitting anyone else unless it's in self-defense." He also said his father was as surprised as anyone by Smith's actions.

As for Chris Rock, Variety reports that ticket sales to his ongoing comedy tour soared after the incident.

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