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Oscars response to Will Smith slap was 'inadequate,' Academy president admits

Academy President Janet Yang addressed attendees at this year's Oscar Nominees Luncheon

HOLLYWOOD, CA - March 27, 2022.    Chris Rock and Will Smith onstage during the show  at the 94th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood on Sunday, March 27, 2022.  (Myung Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Chris Rock and Will Smith onstage at the 94th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood on Sunday, March 27, 2022. (Photo: Myung Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

It’s customary for the president of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to address the actors, filmmakers, crew and other attendees at its annual Oscar nominees luncheon in a welcoming, congratulatory fashion.

This year, though, new Academy President Janet Yang also had a massive elephant in the room she had to address, too: Will Smith’s instantly infamous slap of host Chris Rock during the 2022 Oscars telecast in March.

“I’m sure you all remember we experienced an unprecedented event at the Oscars,” Yang (a veteran film producer whose credits include The Joy Luck Club and The People Vs. Larry Flynt who was elected president in August, replacing David Rubin), told the attendees Monday at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif. via Variety.

“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 the Academy issued a statement condemning Smith’s actions shortly after the telecast ended, was more forceful in their language in a letter to members days later, and ultimately banned Smith from attending the Oscars for 10 years, Yang’s message was particularly notable because it seemingly acknowledges what so many industry professionals and casual observers wondered in the hours, days and months after that shocking event:

How in the world was Smith allowed to stay in his seat and subsequently accept his Oscar after attacking Rock on stage as the entire world watched in disbelief?

Removing Smith from the event was “seriously discussed,” a source told Entertainment Weekly a day after the event. It surely set a terrible precedent that he wasn’t, not to mention the cold hard truth that Smith was likely only allowed to stay because he’s one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Had nearly any other attendee assaulted Rock onstage, they surely would’ve been removed.

We can only read between the lines, but Yang’s comments that her organization’s response was “inadequate” surely seems to indicate that the Academy is acknowledging wrongdoing by letting the actor remain.

In attendance at the Oscar luncheon were the vast majority of this year’s nominees, including Tom Cruise (a producer on Best Picture nominee Top Gun: Maverick), Steven Spielberg (Best Director, The Fabelmans), Cate Blanchett (Best Actress, Tár), Michelle Yeoh (Best Actress, Everything Everywhere All At Once), Angela Bassett (Best Supporting Actress, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever), Brendan Fraser (Best Actor, The Whale) and Colin Farrell (Best Actor, The Banshees of Inisherin).

A year after the Academy's controversial decision to banish a handful of awards to a pre-taped ceremony, Yang also drew cheers from the audience when mentioning that all of this year's trophies will be handed out live, and reminded nominees of the "45 second rule." As in, winners are only allowed 45 seconds for the acceptance speeches. "Keep it short, sweet and to the point, please," Yang said.