Academy president Janet Yang addresses Will Smith Oscars slap: ‘The response from our organization was inadequate’

At the start of the 2023 Oscars nominees luncheon on Monday, academy president Janet Yang addressed Will Smith’s infamous slap of Chris Rock during last year’s ceremony.

Speaking to a room full of 2023 nominees, including actors Angela Bassett, Colin Farrell, Ke Huy Quan, Michelle Yeoh, Cate Blanchett, and Austin Butler, Yang called Smith’s outburst an “unprecedented event” and said the academy itself failed to act properly in response.

“I’m sure you all remember we experienced an unprecedented event at the Oscars,” Yang said. “What happened onstage was fully unacceptable and the response from our organization was inadequate. 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 from us going forward.”

While Rock was onstage to present Best Documentary at the 2022 Oscars, he made a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith’s appearance. In response, Smith shouted at Rock from the audience before then walking up on stage to slap the comedian. Later in the broadcast, Smith won Best Actor for his performance in “King Richard” and received a standing ovation from many Oscar attendees. 

But in the aftermath of the incident, Smith was castigated for his behavior. Less than a week later, he resigned from the academy and offered an apology to Rock and his fellow academy members.

“My actions at the 94th Academy Awards presentation were shocking, painful, and inexcusable,” Smith said in a statement. “The list of those I have hurt is long and includes Chris, his family, many of my dear friends and loved ones, all those in attendance, and global audiences at home. I betrayed the trust of the Academy. I deprived other nominees and winners of their opportunity to celebrate and be celebrated for their extraordinary work. I am heartbroken. I want to put the focus back on those who deserve attention for their achievements and allow the Academy to get back to the incredible work it does to support creativity and artistry in film. So, I am resigning from membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and will accept any further consequences the Board deems appropriate. Change takes time and I am committed to doing the work to ensure that I never again allow violence to overtake reason.”

The academy later suspended Smith from attending academy events for a period of 10 years. He’s still able to be nominated by the group, however, something that came into play last year when Apple released “Emancipation” with Smith in a starring role. However, that film failed to generate much enthusiasm from reviewers or award voters. It’s currently streaming on Apple TV+. 

Yang became academy president in August of last year, months after the Smith situation was resolved. As such, she isn’t the first representative of the academy to express some remorse for how the institution handled Smith and the slap. In a statement shortly after Smith resigned from the academy but before Smith was officially suspended, a representative for the organization said, “The 94th Oscars were meant to be a celebration of the many individuals in our community who did incredible work this past year; however, those moments were overshadowed by the unacceptable and harmful behavior we saw Mr. Smith exhibit on stage. During our telecast, we did not adequately address the situation in the room. For this, we are sorry. This was an opportunity for us to set an example for our guests, viewers, and our Academy family around the world, and we fell short — unprepared for the unprecedented.”

The 2023 Oscars take place on March 12. Jimmy Kimmel is set to host.

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