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Will Smith's slap of Chris Rock turned a "mediocre-to-bad" Oscar ceremony into something "awful"

  • Producer Will Packer's "attempt to fix the event was barely a Band-Aid," says Daniel Fienberg of ABC's broadcast of the 94th Academy Awards ceremony. "After months of big promises about finishing the telecast by 11 p.m. ET, the Oscars were running long, and one key decision after another was yielding something between embarrassment and a fizzle instead of fireworks." So 2-1/2 hours into the ceremony, "it was probably going to end up being another mediocre-to-bad show regardless, but then it became awful," says Fienberg. Following Smith slapping Rock, "that was it for the show," says Fienberg. "What followed was an hour of sheer unpleasantness. On a different Oscar night, I might have expressed annoyance with turning the necrology segment into a song-and-dance in which no effort was put into actually honoring the legends the industry lost in the past year. The director’s focus was mostly on the performers and so I didn’t have a chance to play the annual, 'Who got left out?' and 'Why didn’t they mute the applause?' games. Those 'In Memoriam' segments are so often messed up, and this was just another version of how to upstage a somber moment. As tactless juxtapositions go, it wasn’t quite as bad as going from Troy Kotsur’s beautiful acceptance speech to Chris Evans introducing a commercial for a Disney movie. Or maybe it was. But then we all had to wait for Will Smith to actually win his Oscar. One of the most beloved figures in the industry, an actor who has blended lucrative smash hits and solid dramatic work, Smith was supposed to get a coronation. Instead, his sure-thing victory became excruciating as he cried and talked about how he was just echoing Richard Williams in protecting his family."


    • Will Smith slapping Chris Rock was the kind of TV we still don’t know how to process: "Will Smith did something that the Oscars have reliably tried, but in their insecurity about ratings and buzz, very nearly thwarted itself from doing: creating a moment," says Kevin Fallon. "It shouldn’t seem like rocket science, but apparently it is: When you put the world’s most beautiful and famous people in a room together and just set up a camera, you capture the weirdest, most beautifully out-of-touch sh*t. That can be a very positive thing. I don’t love that Jessica Chastain tied her speech back to Tammy Faye Bakker, whose legacy is… complicated. But I am grateful that she devoted so much of her time onstage to talking about the rights of women and LGBT people that are at stake. Only when you are that famous would you presume to have the megaphone for that. (Again, thank God she did!) It can also be a horrible thing. Let’s be clear: An assault happened. At first, every aunt, college roommate, and person I have ever met asked me if Will Smith getting angry at Chris Rock was a bit. While I’m flattered that anyone thought I had inside information, I can say definitively, at this point, it was not. We’re so programmed to being programmed that none of us knew how to deal with it."
    • ABC and Oscar producers fumbled in the aftermath of Smith slapping Rock: "The ceremony was already running long, but it needed even a brief moment to reset after Smith and Rock’s altercation threw everything into crisis," says Caroline Framke. "Instead, the production ignored the continuing uproar and barreled right on to the next thing, ensuring that poignant and historic moments — like Questlove’s emotional speech for his Summer of Soul win and Jane Campion winning her first Oscar for directing — practically went unnoticed." Framke adds: "In this immediate wreckage of a prestigious night losing its luster live for all to see, there’s something to be said for this tense production’s complete inability to account for the unaccountable. In a desperate chase for ratings, it tried so hard to be as glamorous and slick as possible that it fell on its face well before the night could’ve been saved. ABC might get the buzz it so craved, but at what cost?"
    • It's always a bad sign when the Academy — the Academy! — has to tell people that it doesn't condone violence: "Here was a man walking up to another man at a professional event and hitting him, just hitting him, in front of an entire audience of people like the ones they both work with, then carrying on as before — becoming, arguably, the most honored man of the night," says Linda Holmes. "There is no universe in which the producers can be or should be glad that any of this happened, but strictly for the record, it did probably have the effect of stopping people from talking as much about the Oscars production decisions that had drawn criticism in the weeks leading up to the ceremony. And they deserved plenty of criticism — particularly a couple of internet public opinion 'polls' that purported to give audiences a voice and turned into fan base wars, the results of which were halfheartedly flashed on the screen with as little fanfare as possible."
    • Disney marketing also marred this year's Oscars: "When you remember that the megacorp owns not just ABC, the network that aired the ceremony, but also Hulu, Marvel, Pixar, and more, then the entire pre-Smith night starts to look like one big advertisement," says Judy Berman. "Commercial breaks overflowed with plugs for the Disney empire’s films, TV shows, and platforms. It was kind of distasteful, I thought, to follow up Kotsur’s win with a video of Chris Evans congratulating him, then transitioning directly into a promotional clip from his upcoming Toy Story spinoff, Lightyear. When BTS appeared in a video rhapsodizing over Disney and Pixar musicals, was that an ad or part of the entertainment? It was almost as if Disney was trying to distract from the media maelstrom surrounding its bungled response to Florida’s 'Don’t Say Gay=' bill by bombarding viewers with tantalizing images of its content. I don’t think that promotional tone is entirely unrelated to the blandness of the telecast’s scripted portions. For most brands—especially ones as big, broad and family-oriented as Disney—there’s no upside to risking an association with anything provocative or controversial. So the jokes had to be tame. The stage banter had to stay superficial. And if the presenters could be grouped to ABC and its parent company’s advantage, like the trio of Disney princesses past and future, so much the better."
    • The Oscars bounced back from last year's disaster by getting back to basics: "This year’s ceremony had nowhere to go but up, honestly: Last year’s Oscars were a trainwreck (one that took place at a train station, ironically) plagued by sluggish pacing and a humorless tone," says Dave Nemetz. "....This year, though, with first-time producer Will Packer at the helm, the Oscars was able to return to its home turf at L.A.’s Dolby Theatre and restore some measure of its former glitz and glamour, thanks to falling COVID numbers. And yes, this Oscars ceremony did easily clear that low bar by getting back to what the Oscars does best: showcasing the very best of cinema and playing host to some very memorable moments. (Thank you, Will Smith.)" Nemetz adds: "But aside from a few odd choices, the ceremony thankfully went back to basics for the most part, with actual clips from the nominated performances (what a refreshing change!) and montages celebrating decades of Hollywood history, including a fittingly grand tribute to The Godfather. Plus, the broadcast had a cozy feel, with nominees seated in Golden Globes-style chairs and tables right up front, and the intimate close-ups during the acceptance speeches really captured the emotion in the room."
    • Three hosts with little cohesion just didn't work, as did the disorienting editing of the pre-taped winners: "Hard to know how anyone could’ve predicted this, but it turns out when you have three hosts, you’re going to have … three hosts," says Kathryn VanArendonk and Jackson McHenry. "Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes do kind of make sense together: they are three women who are funny. Beyond that, though, the trio had little in common as Oscar hosts, and it was palpable from the moment they first walked on stage together. Schumer’s style was deliberate, often groan-worthy jokes with a bit of a punch (at one point she shouted out Don’t Look Up and then cracked that the Academy seems to have forgotten to look up that film’s reviews). When it was Hall’s turn, the mood shifted toward hilariously unhinged, with an extended, perfect bit involving pulling handsome actors onto the stage. Hall is single, she explained, and she was just going to, ahem, give them some COVID tests with her tongue. Things slid back toward staid and underwhelming when it was time for Sykes, whose host showcase was largely a pre-taped tour of the Academy museum." They add: "We knew the clips would be edited into the rest of the show, but doing so without explanation or pretext was disorienting. The nominees still got their clip reels, but the producers cut out their walk to the stage and shortened the speeches, all while interspersing clips of famous audience members who weren’t in the room at the time. Then the telecast pretended things were proceeding as usual, spending that freed-up time airing clip reels to remind us that James Bond exists."
    • Eliminating eight awards from the live broadcast only to air them later pre-taped ended up being a bad omen: "This is perhaps where the night went off the rails to begin with, because the problem with eliminating aspects of the show that have always been a part of the live ceremony (like, say, eight actual awards) is that it puts every. other. part that did make the cut under scrutiny," says Liz Shannon Miller. "Such as, for example, the Internet-determined Fan Favorite and Cheer-Worthy Moment awards, which ended up being a farce overrun by extreme pockets of fandom demanding attention for Zack Snyder and Johnny Depp, and a complete waste of time and energy. In the end, so many of the ideas and innovations promised over the course of the night were well-intended in nature but ultimately fell flat, with the most notable moment of the night having no connection to the awarding of an actual award, and the ceremony ultimately not managing to do the one damn thing it was supposed to do: truly celebrate the best movies of 2021....The issues with the night might best be encapsulated by the In Memoriam section, traditionally a somber point in any awards show. For this year’s ceremony, though, the producers took a bold approach in enlisting The Samples Choir to perform a relatively upbeat melody of songs, interspersed with some personal commentary from Tyler Perry, Bill Murray, Jamie Lee Curtis, and a tiny puppy on the specific passings of Sidney Poitier, Ivan Reitman, and Betty White."
    • It's disappointing The Slap will overshadow a pretty good ceremony: "That the slap will likely be the defining thing of this year’s Oscars is a shame, not just because of the awfulness of the moment itself, but because of the moments it threatens to overshadow," says Joel Meares. "Against all expectations, for a large chunk of their running time, the 94th Academy Awards were lively, frequently hilarious, and often moving. Which is not what many were expecting." Meares adds: "When ships start to sink, crews start to panic, and the pre-show word out of Academy HQ suggested this year’s producers, Will Packer and Shayla Cowan, were willing to throw out almost any idea to keep things afloat. Ideas like two shiny new audience awards, the Oscar Fan Favorite and Oscar Cheer Moment, voted for by the public on Twitter and the Academy’s website, a not-so-veiled attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Spider-Man: No Way Home and bring in 'the youths.' And ideas like inviting the decidedly non-super-filmy likes of Kelly Slater and DJ Khaled to present because…of course. But from the moment the show opened, it was clear Packer and Cowan had some good ideas, too—including opening with a Beyonce number, which is pretty much always a good idea. Their best idea, though, might have been their choice of hosts. After two years with no emcee, we got a trio of them: Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes."
    • Smith's slap was horrible, but so was much of the show: "Well before Smith’s slap derailed every other decision regarding the 2022 Oscars, there was a long, vexing lead-up to tonight’s sloppy, confounding event," says Ben Travers. "Earning the most ire was producer Will Packer, ABC, and the Academy’s choice to hand out awards in eight categories prior to the telecast and edit them into the broadcast in a shortened form. This was done, they said, to save time. Running long was the ultimate enemy of the Oscars telecast. This year’s Oscars was the longest ceremony since 2018, running a full 39 minutes over their allotted time. No matter. As many Academy Award enthusiasts pointed out when the decision was first announced, it doesn’t matter how long the Oscars are, so long as they’re good. Was it immensely disrespectful to relegate and condense eight winners’ honor of a lifetime? To signify that their professions aren’t as worthy of the time given to their more famous peers? To try to speed by the essential artistic accomplishments that help build an awe around filmmaking? You bet! But if the 2022 Oscars used that saved time to add elements that would bring relevance back to an institution losing its cultural currency, the producers (and others) argued it would all be worth it."
    • The Oscars went too far in a raunchier direction after being accused of being too political: "From the awkward and seemingly unrehearsed opening by co-hosts Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer and Regina Hall, and a run-on by the kitschy DJ Khaled, this 'night for lovers,' as the Trainwreck star joked, will not do much to resurrect the nearly century-old and troubled Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences event," says Dominic Patten. "Packer and Cowan may have promised a sleeker and more modern show, but what they ended up with was a scratchy mixtape of the 1990s MTV Movie Awards, the Grammys and the currently defrocked Golden Globes that at times screamed out for a Rob Lowe and Snow White cameo. The Smith and Rock brawl aside, there were a lot of stars, a lot of music and not much substance at the dizzying Oscars tonight. The result simply wasn’t very satisfying...Everyone agrees that there have been too many didactic political speeches at awards shows the past 20 years, but to go so far to the other extreme and essentially banish the Abbie Hoffmaneseque open-mic-night statements and sentiments from the show bleaches out some of the Hollywood community’s heart. Blowing off the opportunity for Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to address a global audience, it basically took over an hour and a half before the Oscarcast put the spotlight on Vladimir Putin’s invasion with a series of cable-access-quality slates advocating relief and refugees donations."
    • 94th Academy Awards ceremony was a grab-bag frenzy that attempted to appeal to everyone: "Passion and stunts, nostalgia and snowboarding: this busy Oscars wanted to offer something for every market quadrant," says James Poniewozik. "To make room, something had to go, namely eight “behind the scenes” awards, shunted to a preshow hour. Segments from the acceptances were inserted into the live show with a clunkiness that we can only hope was a form of protest on behalf of the film-editing category. The grab-bag frenzy felt like a manifestation of the conflicting pressures on the Oscars right now. As a TV show with declining ratings, it is trying to reconstitute a fractured mass-media audience. As a showpiece for the film industry, it wants to nudge audiences off the couch and back to the multiplex or art house. Of course, expecting one three-hour TV show to reverse the systemic changes of the streaming era is probably an impossible ask. After all, this was a competition in which the big question was: Which movie that viewers saw on Netflix or Apple TV+ or HBO Max would win biggest."
    • The Oscars' decision to pre-tape eight awards was a failed experiment: "Why, exactly, the Oscars wanted to re-create the experience of running late to the theater, knowing that you were already missing one third of the show, is a head-scratcher," says William Bibbiani. "What’s more — aside from sending the disrespectful message that Film Editing, Original Score, Production Design, Animated Short Films, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound, Documentary Short Subjects and Live Action Short Films were somehow less important than all the other categories — the scheme didn’t even work. Those awards uncomfortably edited into the ceremony at odd, dissatisfying moments — it genuinely looks like they forgot to cut to the Best Makeup and Hairstyling winner until the very last minute, confusingly making it the antepenultimate award of the night. Worse, the show ran three hours and 42 minutes long anyway."
    • The Oscars will always be flawed when they're bound to network TV standards: "The Oscars have a problem," says Alissa Wilkinson. "But that problem is not with the Oscars. The problem is that, somewhere along the way, we’ve decided the Oscars ought to be a TV show. That means it has to succeed by TV standards — not just TV standards, but network TV standards for live broadcasts: lots of viewers, lots of ad sales, some unpredictability but nothing that will upset any of the viewers, who can just turn it off at will. (Admittedly, this year they got that when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage, yelled at him, and then won Best Actor minutes later. But you can’t plan for that kind of thing.)" Wilkinson adds: "I’m no expert in making TV shows. But it seemed, watching the Academy and ABC make unforced error after unforced error in an attempt to “save” this year’s Oscars, that at least part of the problem stems from some fundamental misunderstanding of how the internet works — and what their ceremony is even for. For instance, one week before the ceremony, Rachel Zegler — the leading lady of multi-nominated West Side Story — announced to her fans on social media that she hadn’t been able to get an invite to the ceremony. While plenty of people don’t get invited to the Oscars, the omission was especially silly for a ceremony visibly desperate to get younger viewers."
    • Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall were great, and the pre-taping of eight categories ended up working: "Overall, the production was much tighter and brighter than in recent years, thanks in large part to powerful music numbers, a diverse mixture of guests, and the bitingly funny trio of hosts, Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer and Regina Hall," says Lorraine Ali. "They were the first to play masters of ceremony since 2018, and the first all-female trio to host the Oscars. Together they lampooned the flagging power of film, and the obscurity of the titles that were nominated." She adds: "In a push to boost ratings, the academy pared down the awards given out during the live broadcast. Oscars for film editing, makeup and hairstyling, original score, production design, and sound, as well as the three short-film categories, were handed out in the hour before the broadcast. The winners’ acceptance speeches were later edited into the live show. The drastic cut caused controversy, but it admittedly made for a more streamline show."
    • ABC ruined the Oscars even before The Slap: "The strain was present from the start," says Richard Brody. "Despite the welcome presence of Venus and Serena Williams to open the show, the outdoor performance of 'Be Alive,' by Beyoncé and a crowd of dancers and musicians, and an agile, comedic triple monologue by Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes, the first award, for Best Supporting Actress—it went to Ariana DeBose, for West Side Story—wasn’t given out until eight-twenty-five. The stress of maintaining entertainment value at a hectic rush was already at a panic level. By the time Chris Rock came out to present Best Documentary, around ten-thirty, it was depressingly clear that the Academy and ABC, the network broadcasting the show, had ruined the evening in advance: the overcrammed, overrushed, frenetic, panicky, and joyless proceedings had already become the news that would overshadow the movies and the artists who’d be honored there."
    • The Smith slap was terrible, but so was ABC's censorship of it: "ABC’s decision to bleep out most of what happened between Rock and Smith, the latter of whom took a swing at the comedian after he made an insensitive yuk about Jada Pinkett," says Lynette Rice. "(GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see it!'). We know, we know — no expletives are ever allowed in the family hour. But the Oscar telecast is so devoid of surprises these days. Can’t we just have this one?"
    • Will Smith's acceptance speech made you afraid for him: "When Smith won the award he’d come to collect, he put on yet another performance for the now totally mortified crowd," says Vinson Cunningham. "Venus and Serena, up in a box, looked as if they’d just finished watching The Blair Witch Project for the first time—what was this but some ambivalent mixture of vérité and horror?—instead of enjoying the vicarious glory cast on their family by virtue of Smith’s win. Lupita Nyong’o, who was seated just behind the Smiths, seemed to still be recovering. Smith started with a ballsy improvisation. 'Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,' he said, making clear through his emphasis what kind of parallel he was making.'....I found myself afraid for Smith, who seemed, as he spoke, somehow even more unbalanced than he’d looked squaring up against Rock. I sincerely hope this outburst isn’t a symptom of some much worse problem, but, Rock fan that I am, I’m always hopeful that our world is a comedy and that jokes will outlast tears and petty fights. In the end, I wished that—on grounds of equal time—Rock had been given the chance to deliver a speech, too."
    • Four years on from #MeToo, the Oscars’ feminism has turned flimsy and performative with whiplash speed: "This was hard to predict: the dial only seemed to be turning one way," says Catherine Shoard. "In 2018, Kevin Hart relieved himself from Oscars duties just days after he was announced as the host, following the discovery of homophobic tweets. This year saw the return to the podium of hosts for the first time in four years: all of them women, none of them known for taking prisoners. Yet, under the direction of incoming telecast producer Will Packer – a longtime collaborator of Hart’s, as it happens – nobody on stage on Sunday seemed as intent on undoing any progress as Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes."
    • Why did the Oscars make kids stay up to see the Encanto performance?: "Oscars, if you have any hope of hooking the future drama-kid nerds who are your last remaining hope for an audience, you gotta open the show with this stuff, not air it at 10 pm," says Amy Argetsinger, who had to play "We Don’t Talk About Bruno" before school this morning.
    • The Academy will have a "come-to-Jesus" moment over The Slap fiasco: "I thought Rock handled it with style, class, and frankly courage in those unpredictable moments when Smith’s sheer and kinda frightening violent outburst got the best of him," says Deadline's awards columnist Pete Hammond. "The audience inside the Dolby went dead silent. It was bizarre to say the very least.  Of this I am certain, the Academy is going to have a come-to-Jesus episode at their next board meeting when the time comes to assess what just happened here, if they will take any action around this, and where they head next. That meeting will no doubt also be assessing the damage done by the decision to pre-tape eight categories in the non-televised 4PM hour in order to save time and hopefully help bring the show in at a more ratings-friendly three hours (it landed at about three hours and forty minutes, not counting the first untelevised hour — a very long sit for those of us in the audience)."
    • How International Media reacted to "The Slap Heard Round the World"
    • Will Smith celebrated "a beautiful night" at the Vanity Fair Oscar party, dancing to his own hits
    • Diddy insists Rock and Smith have already made up
    • Tiffany Haddish calls Smith slapping Rock "the most beautiful thing I've ever seen"
    • Today's Craig Melvin criticized for saying Smith's slap aided “this long-held perception…that men of color can’t control their rage and anger"
    • Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski condemns Smith, says "Jada can take care of herself, thank you"
    • The @willsmith Twitter account, belonging to somebody else named Will Smith, was bombarded with hateful messages last night
    • Judd Apatow under fire for a since-deleted tweet saying Smith "could have killed" Rock: Apatow also was criticized for other tweets going after Smith, with some pointing out he was executive producer of Freaks and Geeks when James Franco physically assaulted Busy Philipps. Yet Apatow continued working with Franco.
    • Howard Stern and Nikki Glaser slam Will Smith and the Academy's inaction: “What you saw on TV was a guy with real issues,” said Stern of Smith, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “That’s crazy, that’s crazy when you can’t contain yourself.” Stern added: “You don’t provide security? You don’t have someone come up there? Chris Rock was just trying to make people laugh at the fucking ceremony, which was so long and boring.” Glaser, who called into the Stern show, compared the Academy's inaction to Harvey Weinstein getting away with being a sexual predator. "Everyone saw an assault take place," she said. "Everyone in the room with their own eyes. And then if you would have tuned in 20 minutes later, you would have never known that happened.”
    • Janet Hubert, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's original Aunt Viv, defends Smith: "There is only so much one can take… sometimes you have to slap back"

    TOPICS: Will Smith, ABC, Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, Howard Stern, Jada Pinkett Smith, Janet Hubert, Judd Apatow, Mika Brzezinski, Nikki Glaser, Regina Hall, Sean Diddy Combs, Shayla Cowan, Tiffany Haddish, Wanda Sykes, Will Packer, Award Shows, Film Academy