6 Things to Know About the Slap Seen Around the World

6 Things to Know About the Slap Seen
Around the World

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which administers the Academy Awards, on Monday started a formal review of Sunday night’s jaw-dropper that played out on live TV before an estimated 15.4 million viewers around the world.

A poorly-received joke about his wife from comedian Chris Rock resulted in actor Will Smith initially laughing, then making his first walk of the night onto the Oscars stage to slap Rock across his face. The joke was at the expense of Jada Pinkett-Smith, who is losing her hair from alopecia. Smith returned to his seat and made verbal threats (including America’s favorite expletive) to Rock from there.

Shortly after, Smith accepted the Academy’s Best Actor award and gave an awkward speech, apologizing to the academy and other nominees, and not Rock.

Rock, for his part, has said he will not press charges. He has two years to make up his mind on a civil lawsuit. The Academy is discussing what their next steps will be and whether to punish Smith. (And seriously, who among us didn’t always suspect Sean Penn would be “that guy” one day?)

So while this plays out, here are six things to know about this incident that will make you the most knowledgeable person on this incident when you’re talking at the office, around the dinner table, or at trivia this week.

1. Did Will Smith break any laws? Yes, he broke at least two laws in California: Assault (Penal Code 240) and Battery (Penal Code 242).

Assault is defined “as an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.” Smith clearly did this, and his reasons for deciding to smack Rock do not come into play. It was a mutual combat situation. You can’t go around slapping or punching people because of what they say.

And under California law, a battery is any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.

Both of these would be misdemeanors and Smith could face a fine for assault of up to $2,000 and one for up to $1,000 for battery; each violation also provides for up to six months in jail if someone is found guilty. It’s unlikely any jail time would be served, and $3,000 in fines is pocket change to an A-lister like Smith.

2. Can Rock file a civil lawsuit against Smith or the Academy? The simple answer is yes, and he likely has a solid case against both. He was on stage doing what was expected of him - to make jokes. Let’s leave the quality of the joke aside. Rock’s style (and the style of many comedians these days) includes making jokes at others’ expense. He should not have expected to have been attacked for one of his jokes that the target of the joke didn’t appreciate.

While Smith in his acceptance speech referred to his character in “King Richard” being a “fierce defender of his family,” defending one’s family doesn’t always or even often translate to assault.

As a victim of assault and battery, Rock has two years to file a civil complaint against Smith. While right now we don’t have any information about whether the slap left him with any physical injuries, there could still be an injury that develops.

There also could be repercussions on his career which could be actionable. Note that after Smith’s acceptance speech - following his abhorrent behavior - he received a standing ovation from the audience. Will Rock - not an A-lister - be blacklisted, painted as someone who “incited” that response from a beloved A-lister?

And if he does nothing more, would that send a signal out into the culture that violence is OK as long as the person committing it is popular among his friends and supporters? (Calling Mr. Putin…)

3. How likely is it that the Academy will take away Will Smith’s Oscar for Best Actor? Whoopi Goldberg, who is a governor on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ (AMPAS) board, stated today on “The View” that Smith’s award won’t be revoked.

Goldberg went on to say that “there will be consequences,” but is not sure exactly what they will be yet as the Academy continues their formal review of the incident. It could mean he is never invited to future Oscar ceremonies, or maybe he’s just banned for a year or two.

4. Is Will Smith known for being slap-happy? Well, during a red carpet event in 2012, Will Smith slapped a journalist who tried to kiss him.

After the journalist approached Smith and tried to give him a kiss, Smith pushed him away and lightly slapped him across the face before saying, “He's lucky I didn't sucker punch him.” It wasn’t clear if the reporter kissed him on the mouth on purpose, or if he was aiming for his cheek when Smith turned to avoid him.

5. Even if Rock doesn’t file criminal charges, could someone else? Yes - any of the security guards working inside the event on Sunday could easily have contacted one of 500 LAPD officers working overtime outside the venue to tell them a crime had just occurred and to seek an arrest. It may not have been the best look for Hollywood’s big night, but would have been possible. And while LAPD says they are not investigating the slap because of Rock’s decision to not press charges, that could change if Rock desires a police report at a later date.


6. This isn’t the first time the Academy Awards were interrupted by a direct threat being made to one of the presenters. This happened in 1977:

Categories