They say the cover up is often worse than the crime and in this case that may be true, at least as it applies to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Yesterday, after criticism from one of the hosts, the Academy released a statement saying they had in fact asked Will Smith to leave the event after he slapped Chris Rock. “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,” the statement said. But that statement was extremely light on details. The AP reported, “A representative for the academy declined to give specifics on how it tried to removed Smith.”
Yesterday, TMZ reported the Academy statement and then added this update naming the Academy officials involved and describing “heated conversations” backstage.
Sources who were present at the Oscars tell TMZ, the 2 Academy officials who told Will Smith to leave were David Rubin, the President of the Academy, and Dawn Hudson, the CEO. We’re told they were “furious” at Will, and there was plenty of “yelling” and “heated conversations” backstage with Will’s reps after the incident.
But today, TMZ has a new report which offers a slightly different account of what happened. According to their sources, there were some heated discussions backstage but nothing ever came of them. Not only was Will Smith never asked to leave, he was asked not to leave by the show’s producer.
We’re told there was a split among the officials … some did want him booted, but others did not. There were various discussions during several commercial breaks, but they never reached a consensus…
During one of the commercial breaks, we’re told Oscars producer Will Packer walked up to Will and said, “We do not want you to leave”
It’s worth noting that this account lines up with what Whoopi Goldberg said two days ago on the View. She said that there was concern Will Smith was having some kind of breakdown and people went to see if he needed help. Whoopi framed it less as anger at Smith and more as concern about his welfare.
Whoopi went on to name producer Will Packer as the person who made the decision not to take him out of the room. “The reason they didn’t take him out is because that would have been another 15-20 minute explanation of why we’re taking the black man out, five seconds before they’re about to decide whether he’s won an Oscar or not,” she said. She added, “I believe Will Packer made the right decision. He said let’s get through the rest of this so we can deal with it wholeheartedly.”
So putting all of this together it probably went something like this. The slap happened. There were heated discussions backstage between Academy figures and Will Smith’s people. There was uncertainty about what to do. Some wanted Smith gone and others were perhaps concerned he was having a breakdown of some kind. Maybe someone even asked him “Are you okay? Do you need to leave?” and he said no. That was later reported as the Academy asking Smith to leave and him refusing.
Whether he was asked to leave or not, the question became whether to have security escort him out. And as Whoopi suggested, there was concern that would create a big delay as Smith would have to leave, Jada would leave, maybe others would leave with them, and then some explanation would have to be made from the stage as to why they were gone before they could give out the Best Actor Oscar.
Ultimately producer Will Packer decided it was better to just finish out the show and deal with consequences later so he went and told Smith, “We do not want you to leave.”
On the one hand, you can kind of see Packer’s point. He was there to run a show and, as has always a problem for the Oscars in it’s long history, keep it from running long. So he decided to focus on landing the show and leave dealing with Will Smith for the Academy to sort out later.
It’s understandable but it’s also wrong. By focusing on keeping the show on track, Packer wound up creating a moment where someone who’d assaulted a presenter got an ovation from the audience 30 minutes later. That’s really not a good look for the Oscars, though it may be that it will revive their ratings next year as people tune in to see if there will be any more slapping and shouting.