• Fri. Dec 9th, 2022

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Oscars Producer Did Not Want Will Smith Physically Removed After Slap – The New York Times

Will Packer, the lead producer of the Oscars telecast that was thrown into upheaval after the actor Will Smith went onstage and slapped the comedian Chris Rock, said Friday that after Mr. Smith had been asked to leave the ceremony, he urged the Academy leadership not to “physically remove” him from the theater in the middle of the live broadcast.

Mr. Packer said he had learned from his co-producer, Shayla Cowan, that there were discussions of plans to “physically remove” Mr. Smith from the venue. So he said he immediately approached academy officials and told them that he believed Mr. Rock did not want to “make a bad situation worse.”

“I was advocating what Rock wanted in that time, which was not to physically remove Will Smith at that time,” Mr. Packer said. “Because as it has now been explained to me, that was the only option at that point. It has been explained to me that there was a conversation that I was not a part of to ask him to voluntarily leave.”

Mr. Packer gave his first interview since Sunday’s broadcast to “Good Morning America” on ABC, the network which also broadcasts the Oscars. In the interview, Mr. Packer said that Mr. Rock’s joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair was unscripted “free-styling.”

“He didn’t tell one of the planned jokes,” he said of Mr. Rock.

Mr. Packer said that, like many viewers at home, he had originally thought the slap might be part of an unplanned comedic bit, and that he was not entirely sure until he spoke with Mr. Rock backstage that Mr. Smith had actually hit the comedian.

“I just took a punch from Muhammad Ali,” Mr. Packer recalled Mr. Rock telling him.

Mr. Packer said that Mr. Smith reached out and apologized to him the morning after the Oscars. And he praised Mr. Rock for having kept his cool. “Chris was keeping his head when everyone else was losing theirs,” he said.

“I’ve never felt so immediately devastated,” Mr. Packer said of the incident.

Asked if, after hearing Mr. Smith’s acceptance speech, he wished that the actor had left the ceremony, Mr. Packer said that he did, noting that Mr. Smith had not used his remarks to express real contrition and apologize to Mr. Rock.

“If he wasn’t going to give that speech which made it truly better, then yes, yes,” Mr. Packer said when asked if he wished Mr. Smith had left the ceremony. “Because now you don’t have the optics of somebody who committed this act, didn’t nail it in terms of a conciliatory acceptance speech in that moment, who then continued to be in the room.”

Mr. Smith did not apologize to Mr. Rock until Monday evening, after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which administers the awards, had condemned his actions and opened an inquiry into the incident.

Mr. Packer’s comments came after days of questions about why Mr. Smith had seemed to face no repercussions for striking a presenter on live television.

The academy said in a statement earlier this week that Mr. Smith had been asked to leave the awards ceremony following the slap, but had remained. Then several publications questioned that account, citing anonymous sources, and reported that Mr. Packer had suggested he stay. Representatives for Mr. Smith and Mr. Rock have not commented publicly on the matter.

Shortly after the ceremony ended Sunday, the Los Angeles Police Department issued a statement saying that the person who had been slapped had “declined to file a police report.”

In the interview, Mr. Packer described his recollection of law enforcement’s involvement.

“They were saying, this is battery, we will go get him,” Mr. Packer said in the interview. “We’re prepared to get him right now. You can press charges. We can arrest him.”

“Chris was being very dismissive of those options,” Mr. Packer continued. “He was like, ‘No, I’m fine.’ He was like, ‘No, no, no.’”

Both on Sunday night and in subsequent interviews this week, the Los Angeles police have maintained that Mr. Smith’s slap qualified as misdemeanor battery under California law — and that as a misdemeanor, officers cannot take action unless the victim in the case files charges, which Mr. Rock did not do.

In an interview on Thursday, Deputy Chief Blake Chow, of the Los Angeles Police Department’s West Bureau, described the department’s role in less dramatic terms. At the Oscars, police officers are primarily responsible for patrolling outside the Dolby Theater and the Academy hires a security company to handle issues inside the building, he said.

On Sunday, one police captain was stationed backstage as a liaison, the deputy chief said. The police captain inside did not observe the slap himself; but he quickly became aware of it, the deputy chief added. The police captain made contact with a representative for Mr. Rock shortly after the comedian had finished presenting an award and had returned backstage with his team, Deputy Chief Chow said.

The representative communicated “Chris Rock’s wishes” that he did not want to press charges or file a police report, the deputy chief said. “He didn’t want to do anything.”

The police department was not asked to escort Mr. Smith out of the venue, and even if the police had been asked to do that, such a request would not have fallen within the department’s purview, the deputy chief said.

Detectives followed up on Monday with Mr. Rock’s representatives to ensure that he still did not want to take action. He reaffirmed that he did not, the deputy chief said.

Mr. Rock made his first public comments about the incident on Wednesday at a comedy show in Boston. “I’m still kind of processing what happened,” Mr. Rock said, while promising to discuss the episode in greater depth later. “It’ll be serious, it’ll be funny, but I’d love to — I’m going to tell some jokes.”

The academy said Wednesday that it had initiated disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Smith “for violations of the academy’s standards of conduct, including inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior, and compromising the integrity of the academy.” It said that Mr. Smith would be given a chance to respond and that at its next board meeting, on April 18, it “may take any disciplinary action, which may include suspension, expulsion or other sanctions.”