Academy ‘Does Not Condone Violence’ — but Steers Press Away from Asking About Will Smith Incident

Will Smith’s onstage smack of Chris Rock was the most talked about moment of the Oscars on Sunday. The incident prompted confusion and shock from people inside the Dolby Theatre and around the world, but there was little opportunity to discuss the matter in the Academy’s onsite interview room, where winners went to take questions from press after receiving their awards.

Up first was Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. Rock was a presenter for the Best Documentary category, which Thompson’s “Summer of Soul” won. Sure enough, the first question Thompson was asked concerned the Rock-Smith incident.

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“I’m not talking about that. This is about the Harlem Cultural Festival. We’re very happy right now to accept this award,” Thompson said.

The interview room’s moderator offered this after Thompson continued answering the question: “I caution you to not ask you questions referring to anything else in the show other than the winners on stage.”

The onstage violence gripped the attention of the press corps, which struggled to compose itself after the incident and was frequently distracted by its fallout even while other winners were in the interview room. For instance, Best Editing winner Joe Walker (“Dune”) had to implore the normally inquisitive reporters to ask questions, as many of their eyes were locked on screens airing Smith’s Best Actor acceptance speech later in the evening.

“Isn’t anybody going to ask me about the irony, as an editor, that my speech was edited tonight? Who wants that one? I’ll give it to whoever wants it,” Walker said.

Later, the matter came up once again when someone asked Best Actress winner Jessica Chastain a two-part question. It was the first one she was asked in the room — where is she going to put her Oscar, and this non sequitur: “because your speech was so moving, what did you think about Will Smith’s speech?”

Chastain shared that this was her first time ever holding an Oscar — one time at Eddie Redmayne’s house in London, other guests of the actor were passing around his statue, but she declined out of superstition. Immediately after she finished answering the first part of the question, the moderator swooped in — perhaps before Chastain could even utter a syllable about Smith — and called on the next journalist.

Sure, the Academy here is quashing questions about a moment that’s guaranteed to go down in Oscars history and one that demands further reporting. But without moderation, the evening could have been all about Smith, as journalists moved toward the most tantalizing story of the evening.

That’s the framing that the Academy offered in a Tweet about the Smith incident after the show ended, where it wrote it “does not condone violence of any form.”

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