By JAKE COYLE
NEW YORK (AP) – The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences said on Wednesday that Will Smith had been asked to leave Sunday’s Oscar ceremony after hitting Chris Rock, but declined to do so.
The academy’s board of directors met on Wednesday to initiate disciplinary proceedings against Smith for violations of the group’s standards of conduct. The academy said disciplinary action against Smith could include suspension, expulsion or other sanctions.
Many have focused on why Smith was allowed to sit in the front row of the Dolby Theater after the incident. On Wednesday, the academy suggested it was trying to remove the actor from the public.
“Things unfolded in a way that we could not have foreseen,” the academy said. “While we would like to clarify that Mr Smith was asked to leave the ceremony and declined, we also recognize that we could have handled the situation differently.”
An academy representative declined to provide details of how it attempted to remove Smith. After Smith slammed Rock in response to a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, several stars including Denzel Washington, Bradley Cooper and Tyler Perry spoke to 53-year-old Smith.
The academy said Smith has the opportunity to defend himself in a written response before the board meets again on April 18. The film academy previously condemned Smith’s attack on Rock onstage, but used stronger language on Wednesday.
“Mr. Smith’s actions at the 94th Oscars were a deeply shocking, traumatic event to witness personally and on television,” the academy said. Rock, we apologize for what you went through on our stage and thank you for your resilience at that time. We also apologize to our nominees, guests and viewers for what happened during what should have been a celebratory event.”
On Monday, Smith apologized to Rock, the academy and the viewers, saying, “I was out of line and I was wrong.”
A Smith representative did not immediately respond to reports of the academy’s latest moves on Wednesday.
Only a very small number of members of the academy have ever been evicted, including Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polanski, Bill Cosby and the actor Carmine Caridi, who was evicted for sharing prize screeners.
Whoopi Goldberg, a member of the academy’s board of directors, said on “The View” Monday, “We’re not going to take that Oscar from him.” (Even Oscars won by disfellowshipped members have not previously been ordered to return.) Goldberg added that “nobody likes what happened”
Rock, who has not yet commented publicly on the incident, was scheduled to perform a stand-up in Boston on Wednesday evening.
Others from Sunday’s broadcast also began to speak out. Co-host Wanda Sykes told Ellen DeGeneres in an April 7 interview that she felt physically ill after Smith punched Rock. When he returned to his seat, Smith twice yelled at Rock to “keep my wife’s name out of your (expletive) mouth.”
“I’m still a little traumatized by it,” Sykes said in a clip released Wednesday.
Within an hour, Smith was back on stage to receive the Best Actor award for his role in ‘King Richard’. Many in the Dolby Theater gave him a standing ovation.
“I was like, how dirty is this? This is the wrong message. You attack someone and you are escorted out of the building and that’s it. But I was disgusted that they let him go through,” said Sykes. “I wanted to be able to run away (onstage) after he won and say, ‘Um, unfortunately, Will couldn’t be here tonight.'”