While we wait for Oscars 2023 on Sunday I am obliged to remind you all of an unfortunate series of events which culminated in what is known as “the battle” at last year’s ceremony. I’m making this reminder mandatory because by now you may have thankfully forgotten about the incident where Will Smith rushed the stage to punch Chris Rock in the face for a joke mocking Jada Pinkett Smith for suffering from alopecia-induced hair loss.
There was a year ago — but with days to go before this year’s Academy Awards, the incident remains front-of-mind for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, to the point that it created an entire committee devoted to preparing for a hypothetical Slap-like event. “We have an entire crisis team, something we’ve never had before, and a lot of plans in place,” Academy CEO Bill Kramer told Time last month. “We have run many scenarios. So it’s our hope that we’ll be prepared for anything that we might not expect right now, but that we’re planning for in case it happens.”
It seems… dramatic. It’s essentially the bureaucratic equivalent of Judd Apatow tweeting last year that Smith, a grown man who slapped a grown fan, could have killed Rock.
I’m not here to dredge up additional Takes™ on Slap itself— Every possible think tank and Twitter thread on the matter has already been written. What more is there to say, except that a “crisis team” to triage future Slaps (or other unexpected celebrity behavior) is comically over the top. Just imagining Kramer telling Time that the Academy has “run many scenarios”, presumably simulating a surprise on-stage strike and the ensuing PR nightmare, cracks me up.
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What I want say is that it’s quite telling that, instead of Smith presenting the award for Best Actress this year – a role traditionally reserved for the previous year’s Best Actor – an “awards expert” told Page Six that “some A-lister like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise” will likely present it instead. Notice, Cruise is a figurehead for a religious group mired in accusations of sexual abuseand Pitt was investigated by the FBI above alleged domestic violence against his ex-wife and children. Of course, none of that violence took place on stage at the Oscars, so it’s unlikely it will ever be recognized by the Academy, let alone subject to a crisis team response.
Last month, Academy President Janet Yang so The Academy took ‘deficient’ action immediately after the bang: Smith returned to his seat and accepted the award for best actor for his role in King Richard, and it took days before the Academy banned him from attending Oscars ceremonies for 10 years. “We learned from this that the academy must be fully transparent and accountable in our actions, and especially in times of crisis, we must act quickly, compassionately and decisively for ourselves and for our industry,” Yang said.
Yet, no matter how much the Academy’s leadership seems convinced that Slap was a world-changing, paradigm-shifting event, not much changed in its wake. The same night Smith was honored by the NAACP last week, winning Best Actor for his role in LiberationRock performed a stand-up set with one a whole series of mock graves on Pinkett Smith and her relationship with Smith, as well as a “joke” about seeing Liberation just to enjoy the sight of Smith, who plays an enslaved man, being whipped. All I can say is that in light of this I am not surprised recently resumed recordings of Rock laughs along with white comics Louis CK and Ricky Gervais as they spew the N-word and racist jokes.
Look, I realize that the Academy doesn’t want a repeat of last year’s events – very, very fair! But devoting resources to a crisis management team is at best a shrewd PR stunt, and at worst a seriously misreading of the academy’s shortcomings. If it had an iota more self-awareness, the academy might find those resources better devoted to, say, some kind of diversity education program to avoid another presenter coming on stage and spewing misogyny. Instead, it gave the hosting gig to Jimmy Kimmel so that the audience would feel “very safe.” Or, hey! It can do literally anything to record endemic inequality in the industry. Alas, the academy needs to turn a blind eye almost four hours long broadcastand it looks to reinvigorate the Slap news cycle as a way to do so.