Nearly a week after the now-famous “Oscars slap,” information is still leaking out about what took place, and questions are being answered — namely, why Will Smith was not escorted from the venue after striking comedian Chris Rock during the live broadcast.
On Friday, Oscars producer Will Packer revealed in an interview with Good Morning America that Los Angeles police officers were prepared to arrest Smith, 53, but Rock’s insistence not to press charges prevented that.
Packer, who was producing the 94th Academy Awards for the first time, said initially — like many audience members at home and in the Dolby Theater — he thought Smith slapping Rock was a bit.
It was only once Rock exited the stage and confirmed to Packer that he really had been hit that Packer understood the situation.
“I just took a punch from Muhammad Ali,” Packer said Rock joked, though he confirmed Rock was still “very much in shock.”
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The altercation between Smith and Rock occurred Sunday during the Oscars broadcast when Rock, 57, was presenting the award for Documentary Feature (won by summer of soul).
“Jada, I love you. GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see it, all right?” Rock joked, referencing the 1997 film G.I. Jane starring Demi Moore, who shaved her head to portray a fictional Navy SEAL candidate.
Pinkett Smith, who has publicly spoken about her struggles with alopecia, was visibly unimpressed by the joke.
Smith walked onto the stage from his front-row seat and took a swing at Rock with an open palm, generating a loud smack. Smith walked back to his seat and shouted for Rock to leave Pinkett Smith alone. Rock replied that he was just making a G.I. Jane joke and Smith yelled back at him a second time.
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“Keep my wife’s name out of your f–king mouth!” Smith shouted, and the crowd hushed as it became clear this was no act.
Smith stayed in the Dolby Theater for the remainder of the ceremony and accepted his Best Actor award for King Richard after the altercation.
“Once I saw Will yelling at the stage with such vitriol, my heart dropped,” Packer said. “And I just remember thinking, ‘Oh no, oh no. Not like this.’”
“Chris was keeping his head when everyone else was losing theirs,” he continued. “My heart was just in my stomach because of everything about it and what it represented and what it looked like and who was involved. All of that. I’ve never felt so immediately devastated like I did in that moment.”
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After Rock was slapped, Packer said police spoke to him and the comedian, “laying out very clearly what Chris’ rights are.”
“They were saying: ‘This is battery. We will go get him. We’re prepared. We’re prepared to get him right now. You can press charges. We’ll arrest him.’”
However, Packer said Rock was “very dismissive” of those options, claiming he was fine “even to the point where I said, ‘Rock, let him finish.’”
On Wednesday, the Academy said Smith was asked to leave Sunday’s Oscar ceremony after hitting Rock but refused to do so. Packer said he was not a part of this conversation, and there have since been reports disputing this ever took place.
However, when Packer learned that the Academy was going to ask Smith to leave, he said he took action.
“I immediately went to the Academy leadership that was on site and I said, ‘Chris Rock doesn’t want that,’” Packer said.
“I said, ‘Rock has made it clear that he does not want to make a bad situation worse.’ That was Chris’ image. His tone was not retaliatory, his tone was not aggressive and angry. And so I was advocating for what Rock wanted at that time, which was not to physically remove Will Smith,” he said. “Because, as it has now been explained to me, that was the only option at that point.”
On Monday afternoon, following much fallout from the incident, the Academy announced in a statement that it was starting an investigation into what took place.
“The Academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show,” reads the statement. “We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore future action and consequences in accordance with our Bylaws, Standards of Conduct and California law.”
That same day, Smith issued an apology to the comedian, the Academy and viewers at home, saying on Instagram that he was “out of line” and that his actions are “not indicative of the man I want to be.”
Packer said Smith also apologized to him directly and expressed his embarrassment over the situation.
It is unclear what action, if any, the Academy will take against Smith.
— with files from The Associated Press
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