Last year's Academy Awards featured perhaps the most infamous moment in the long history of the Oscars: Will Smith storming on stage to slap Chris Rock. The shocking incident was apparently a wakeup call for the Academy, which will implement a "crisis team" at this year's show in order to react more swiftly in case something, anything, goes awry.
"We have a whole crisis team, something we've never had before, and many plans in place," Bill Kramer, CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, told Time magazine in an interview published this week. "Because of last year, we've opened our minds to the many things that can happen at the Oscars."
Kramer, who was named CEO of the Academy in July, said the crisis team includes communications professionals and unspecified frameworks he hopes "we never have to use."
The Oscars has been struggling to attract the gargantuan TV audiences it once did -- 2021 was a record low -- yet last year's slap was as viral a moment as TV can produce. After Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's alopecia, her husband, Will Smith, stormed the stage, slapped the comedian and yelled "Keep my wife's name out of your fucking mouth."
Smith, who won the best actor Oscar last year for his role in King Richard, was subsequently banned by the Academy from attending the Oscars or other related events and programs for 10 years.
"What happened onstage was fully unacceptable and the response from our organization was inadequate," AMPAS President Janet Yang said in February. "We learned from this that the Academy must be fully transparent and accountable in our actions, and particularly in times of crisis you must act swiftly, compassionately and decisively for ourselves and for our industry. You should and can expect no less form us going forward."
After four muted months, Smith apologized to Rock, Rock's mother and fellow award nominees in a July video posted to his Facebook and Instagram pages. "I've reached out to Chris, and the message that came back is that he's not ready to talk. And when he is, he will reach out," Smith said in the video. "So I will say to you, Chris, I apologize to you... My behavior was unacceptable, and I'm here whenever you're ready to talk."
Rock, for his part, has spoken about the incident during various standup shows over the past year. Last July, Rock referenced the slap when he told a crowd that "anyone who says 'words hurt' hasn't been punched in the face." The next month, he said during a set that he'd turned down an invitation to host 2023's Oscars, though that was likely a bit.
"As an institution, we need to move swiftly and compassionately and to engage with our members and nominees in a very transparent way," Kramer said to Time. "We could have moved more quickly. And I'm not just talking about the night of the show. This is really our response after the show, and how we spoke about it, and how we talked to Will and Chris, and our hosts and our members. It was a moment to really bring people together."