The Oscars Gives the ‘Slap’ New Life With a ‘Crisis Team’

The Academy seems to be doing what it can to get more viewers. Meanwhile, Chris Rock continues to spew jokes about Jada Pinkett Smith.

The Oscars Gives the ‘Slap’ New Life With a ‘Crisis Team’
Photo:Robyn Beck (Getty Images)

As we await the 2023 Oscars on Sunday, I’m obligated to remind you all of an unfortunate series of events that culminated in what’s known as “the Slap” at last year’s ceremony. I render this reminder obligatory because, by now, you may have blessedly forgotten about the incident in which Will Smith rushed the stage to slap Chris Rock clean across the face for a joke mocking Jada Pinkett Smith for suffering from alopecia-induced hair loss.

It was a year ago—but with days to go before this year’s Oscars, 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 incident. “We have a whole crisis team, something we’ve never had before, and many plans in place,” Academy CEO Bill Kramer told Time last month. “We’ve run many scenarios. So it is our hope that we will be prepared for anything that we may not anticipate right now but that we’re planning for just in case it does happen.”

That seems… dramatic. It’s essentially the bureaucratic equivalent of Judd Apatow tweeting last year that Smith, a grown man who gave a fellow grown fan a smack, could have killed Rock.

I’m not here to dredge up further Takes™ on the Slap itself—every possible thinkpiece 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 excessive. Just imagining Kramer telling Time that the Academy has “run many scenarios,” presumably simulating an on-stage surprise-slap and the ensuing PR nightmare, cracks me up.

Photo:Robyn Beck (Getty Images)

What I will say is that it’s quite telling that, in lieu of Smith presenting the award for Best Actress this year—a role traditionally reserved for the prior year’s Best Actor—an “awards expert” told Page Six that “someone A-list like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise” will likely present it, instead. Mind you, Cruise is a figure-head for a religious group mired in sexual abuse allegations, and Pitt was investigated by the FBI over alleged domestic violence against his ex-wife and kids. Of course, none of that violence took place on stage at the Oscars, so it’s unlikely to ever be acknowledged by the Academy, let alone subject to a crisis team response.

Last month, Academy president Janet Yang said the Academy took “inadequate” action right after the Slap: Smith returned to his seat and went on to accept the award for Best Actor for his role in King Richard, and it took days for the Academy to ban 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 particularly in times of crisis we must act swiftly, compassionately, and decisively for ourselves and for our industry,” Yang said.

Yet, however much the Academy’s leadership seems convinced that the Slap was a world-changing, paradigm-shifting event, not all that much changed in its aftermath. On the same evening that Smith was honored by the NAACP last week, winning Best Actor for his role in Emancipation, Rock performed a stand-up set featuring a whole string of derisive digs at Pinkett Smith and her relationship with Smith, in addition to a “joke” about watching Emancipation just to savor the sight of Smith, who plays an enslaved man, getting whipped. All I can say is, in light of this, I am not overly surprised by recently resurfaced footage of Rock laughing along with white comics Louis C.K. and Ricky Gervais as they spew the N-word and racist jokes.

Look, I get 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 a plucky PR stunt at best, and a seriously misguided read of the Academy’s shortcomings at worst. If it had a shred more self-awareness, the Academy might find those resources better devoted to, say, some kind of diversity education program to avoid another presenter getting on stage and spewing misogynoir. Instead, it gave the hosting gig to Jimmy Kimmel so audiences would feel “very safe.” Or, hey! It might do literally anything to address endemic industry inequality. Alas, the Academy needs to draw eyeballs to its nearly four-hour broadcast, and it seems reinvigorating the Slap news cycle is one way to do that.

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