While the academy's president, David Rubin, and its CEO, Dawn Hudson, called Smith’s actions “unacceptable and harmful,” the decision has sparked a debate online, with some supporting the academy’s actions as appropriate, and others criticizing them as excessive and hypocritical.
Many suggested that there was a double standard applied to Smith and called out the Oscars’ history of awarding celebrities who have been accused of sexual assault, racism, and misogyny.
Several viral posts pointed to controversial figures who have not faced repercussions from the academy, including Oscar winners Kevin Spacey, who has faced allegations of sexual abuse, and Woody Allen, whose daughter has accused him of sexual assault. (Criminal charges against Spacey were dropped in 2019, and Allen, who has never been charged, has denied all allegations.)
Others noted that the academy has not shunned Mel Gibson, who has won two Oscars, even though he has faced accusations of antisemitism and domestic violence. Some also observed that Casey Affleck, who has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, won an Oscar for Best Actor in 2017.
People highlighted how quick the academy was to ban Smith for a slap, criticizing how long it took the organization to expel disgraced celebrities such as Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and Roman Polanski, who had long faced accusations of sexual assault.
After banning Weinstein in 2017, and Cosby and Polanski in 2018, the academy offered Polanski’s wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, an invitation to join the organization in 2018 (which she rejected).
TikTok user Sharika Soal posted a viral take, accusing Hollywood of allowing white celebrities to build careers without consequences.
“I don’t know if it’s racism or classism, but it’s so blatant and hard to process,” Soal told BuzzFeed News. As a survivor of sexual assault by an adopted father, she said that the academy’s lack of action against directors like Allen — who married his adopted daughter — disgusted her.
“How can you punish a man for slapping someone onstage in an interpersonal confrontation when there are whole TV productions glorifying violence, and then there are men like Woody Allen who are literal pedophiles?” she said. “I don’t understand it.”
Courtney Baker, PhD, an African American studies and film professor at the University of California, Riverside, believes that the dissonance between the academy’s disciplinary actions toward Smith and others comes down to the fact that the slap was televised.
“The greatest issue for the academy is that [the slap] happened on camera,” Baker told BuzzFeed News. “There has been assault, actions which were more profoundly dangerous, destructive, and repeated but had the benefit of not happening in public and on camera at an event run by the [Academy of] Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That is the driving force behind the 10-year ban more than anything else.”
But online users shared other instances of inappropriate behavior that happened onstage during televised award ceremonies. Adrien Brody did not face the academy’s heat when he grabbed and kissed Halle Berry without her consent while accepting his 2003 Oscar for Best Actor. Berry later described her only thought in that moment as, What the fuck is happening?
People also resurfaced a video clip of Jim Carrey — who publicly slammed Smith for the slap and called Hollywood “spineless” for giving him a standing ovation — kissing Alicia Silverstone without her consent during the 1997 MTV Awards. At the time, Silverstone was 21 and Carrey was 35.
“This is a performative response to a performative act,” Baker said. “Those are much easier to get up and get people behind than really do the deep analysis of, what is wrong with our industry that it’s so easy to repeatedly and rampantly conduct assault?”
Smith resigned from the academy and apologized to Rock, calling his behavior "unacceptable and inexcusable." Despite the attendance ban, Smith will still be able to be nominated for and win Oscars.
Baker said it would be a mistake to "extrapolate any kind of morality by the academy or even of society from this slap."
“I’d love to see a more thoughtful conversation asking more crucial questions about comedy towards oppressed groups and our tastes in public behavior that lead towards us being kinder towards one another," she said.