According to crisis managers, Will Smith’s public apology to Chris Rock after slapping him onstage at the Oscars may have been too little, too late.
Smith stunned viewers on Sunday when he bounded onto the stage at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre and smacked comedian Chris Rock across the face after the comedian made a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia.
After returning to his seat, Smith yelled at Rock, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth!” Smith later apologized onstage as he accepted his Best Actor Oscar for his role in King Richard, but he didn’t address Rock directly until Monday.
Smith stated on Instagram one day after the incident that he was “out of line and I was wrong.” I’m embarrassed, and my actions did not reflect the man I want to be. Violence has no place in a world of love and kindness.”
Smith wrote, “Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive.” “My conduct at last night’s Academy Awards was both unacceptable and inexcusable.” Jokes about my medical condition are part of the job, but one about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear, and I reacted emotionally.
“I’d like to formally apologize to you, Chris.” I was out of line, and I was mistaken. I’m embarrassed, and my actions did not reflect the man I want to be. Violence has no place in a world of love and kindness.
“I’d also like to apologize to the Academy, the show’s producers, all of the attendees, and everyone watching around the world.” I’d like to apologize to the Williams and King Richard families. I deeply regret that my actions have marred what has otherwise been a beautiful journey for all of us. “I’m still a work in progress.”
However, Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants in California, told Newsweek that Smith’s display of contrition appeared “contrived and desperate to save a career he crashed into the Hollywood sign.”
If the actor’s reputation is to be saved in any way, he must issue “an authentic apology to Rock because his acceptance speech was chaotic, and not enough, and his recent [Instagram] apology did not hit the mark.”
“Will needed to apologize to Rock first and had time to get it right before his acceptance speech but failed along with his written apology,” he continued.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stated after the Oscars that it “does not condone violence in any form.” The Academy has since stated that it has begun an investigation into the incident.
“The Academy condemns Mr. Smith’s actions at last night’s show,” the statement said. “We have officially begun a formal review of the incident and will consider additional action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct, and California law.”
While the impact of Smith’s latest apology is debatable, Schiffer believes it may serve to “cool the public heat a degree or two while he awaits the Academy’s verdict.”
“Part of Will Smith’s spontaneous combustion image rehabilitation is determined by whether the Academy decapitates his Oscar win and returns their multi-pound of golden flesh to him,” he continued.
“Chances are, the Academy will not regard Smith’s… rage and assault as Oscar-extinction-level behavior.”
Smith appeared to allude to slapping Rock near the end of his Oscar acceptance speech on Sunday, when he spoke about protecting his castmates before saying that “love will make you do crazy things.”
According to Evan Nierman, CEO of crisis PR firm Red Banyan, many people will interpret Smith’s words as an attempt to justify his previous actions, which is exacerbated by the fact that his apology to Rock was not immediate.
“Not only did Will Smith fail to apologize to the person he assaulted, but he also seemed to rationalize and justify his violent outburst by saying that love makes you do crazy things,” said Nierman, author of Crisis Averted.
The path to public forgiveness will not end with a simple apology, but rather with how Smith uses his platform in the future.
“Smith is going to have to demonstrate real remorse and speak out unequivocally against violence, and anything short of that suggests he doesn’t truly regret his actions,” Nierman explained.
“In his recently released autobiography, Smith spoke movingly about his father’s domestic violence, but then sh0ckingly displayed similar behavior and loss of control in front of a global audience.”
Under the Lights
Finally, whatever action Smith takes, there is little he can do to prevent images and footage of his reaction to Rock from being discussed and replayed, according to Nierman.
“Expect the debate over Will Smith’s actions to rage on in the coming days,” he said, “because he is one of the world’s most famous and talented artists.”
“The constant airing of the slap and his screaming obscenities from his seat will eventually fade, and in their place will come a flood of commentary reflecting on the impact of his actions, what the appropriate punishment should be, and the responsibility that celebrities do or do not have to serve as role models.”
While winning an Oscar is something that those in the industry are proud of, Smith’s triumph will likely be forever linked to the incident that overshadowed this year’s star-studded ceremony.
“Will Smith is an incredible actor beloved by the public, and it’s a terrible shame that what should have been a night celebrating a crowning achievement as a performer will forever be indelibly linked to an ugly assault by him,” Nierman said.
“This incident will be associated with Will Smith for a long time to come, and it will also go down in history as one of the most sh0cking and unfortunate moments in Academy Awards history.”
For his part, Schiffer told Newsweek that the consequences could result in Smith’s Oscar win being “edited for good” from any highlight reels featuring previous winners.
“Will Smith’s Oscar victory and tremendous talent will sadly forever be cauterized into the public’s pre-frontal cortex, shamefully staining his win for decades and ensuring he’s edited out of any serious and historic Oscar winner highlight reel,” he said.