Anonymous Academy members have some thoughts about that Will Smith ban

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Will Smith
Will Smith

When we talk about The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences—i.e., the group that votes on and hands out the Oscars, and which runs the annual Oscars ceremony—we’re talking about a pretty massive group of people. Exact membership in AMPAS isn’t listed anywhere, but it’s estimated that the organization has about 10,000 members these days, pulled from pretty much every branch of film production—actors, writers, directors, and producers, of course, but also editors, sound technicians, make-up artists, costume designers, PR people, and plenty of other well-respected cogs in the Hollywood machine.

Now: Would it surprise you to learn that a non-zero number of those 10,000 people have some very loud, very anonymous takes they’d like to offer up about Will Smith’s whole recent deal, which culminated in him catching a 10 year ban from the Oscars from the Academy’s Board Of Governors on Friday afternoon? Then boy howdy, do we have a very depressing Hollywood Reporter article for you.

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To be fair: Not all of the Academy members who talked to THR for their Academy survey of Smith reactions did so anonymously; Simpsons actor Harry Shearer went on the record, as did a number of less well-known members of several of the branches. (Shearer gave a fairly nuanced read, at least by the standards of these Academy reactions, noting, “A decade-long ban seems oddly parental, as in, he’ll have outgrown his slappin’ phase by then.”)

But a majority of respondees (who are also, it’s worth remembering, the people who contribute to THR’s endlessly depressing “anonymous Oscars ballot” feature every year) went off the record, and, thus unencumbered by the burden of accountability, decided to really let loose. Reactions from these nameless folks tended to break down along three basic lines:

  1. Will Smith is a violent monster who should have had his Oscar stripped away, and charges pressed

  2. Comedians shouldn’t be allowed to make fun of people at the Oscars any more.

  3. Who cares about Will Smith, let’s talk about what a bad job Oscars producer Will Packer and Academy bigwigs David Rubin and Dawn Hudson did.

There are outliers, of course, but those three threads were dominant. Another recurring theme: A bemoaning of the damage the whole incident has done to the prestige of the Oscars, which, as far as we can tell, is something that exactly and only these 10,000 people actually care about anymore.

Certainly, conversation online, outside the Academy sphere, have trended toward the Daniel Radcliffe modality, with only the most persistent of internet gadflys—your Ricky Gervaises or your Piers Morgans—even bothering to raise a harumph yesterday. When the most drastic response to a 10-year Oscars banning of a major celebrity is Jamie Kennedy declaring “It’s time to do a video about this,” you know the air has finally, blessedly gone out of the tires.

One small exception: Veteran actor Henry Lennix (Dollhouse, The Matrix sequels), who penned a guest column for Variety today all but demanding Smith give his Oscar back in order to “redeem the integrity of the Oscars.” “With one deft blow,” Lennix (who’s caught some flack online, both for writing this piece, and for his responses to questions about collaborator Joss Whedon in an earlier interview) writes, “Will Smith created an existential crisis for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The incident was such a jolt to societal norms that it will gnaw away at our national conscience until somehow properly atoned for.” And, really, we could leave it right there (Maybe for good! That would be nice!) but seriously, please appreciate this meditation on free will dropped in the midst of Lennix’s excoriation, apparently provoked by Smith invoking God in his “surreal” acceptance speech for his Best Actor award:

Given the coarseness of pop culture in the age of social media, it was no surprise that much of this year’s Oscar proceedings were frequently profane. But it is an insult to the honor of God to assign him any part of the tawdry episode. To argue that some deterministic force was at play is to deny the sad fact that the affair was purely human. To be sure, a grave moral failure occurred, but the psychology and philosophy that underpins this ongoing spectacle can very ably be explained as an act of free will.

All of which is to say that this may be the most anyone living still cares about this moment, and that includes Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Chris Rock, or Oscar himself.