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At the Oscars a year later, 'The Slap' stays in the picture

Will Smith, Chris Rock
Posted at 4:10 PM, Mar 08, 2023

The Academy Awards are Sunday, but did last year’s Oscars ever really end?

When Hollywood reconvenes at the Dolby Theatre for the 95th Academy Awards, the ceremony will signal many things. The probable triumph of “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” A potentially historic night for Asians and Asian Americans in the film industry. Possibly a record number of jokes about “Cocaine Bear.”

But for many, nothing will register more than returning to the site of The Slap. In a way, we’re all still living in that frozen-in-time moment. Chris Rock’s face twisted to the side. Will Smith’s arm dramatically extended. A deathly hush over the Dolby Theatre.

A new low for the Oscars but a high point of public fascination, The Slap was immediately etched into collective memory, and its shock has kept reverberating. Rock, in a live stand-up special on Sunday, only just offered his fiery rebuttal, adding a fresh new volley in the still ongoing discourse around the incident.

For the first time, two sequels (“Top Gun: Maverick,” “Avatar: The Way of Water”) are nominated this year for best picture. But this year’s Oscars – whether they like it or not – will be a sequel, too, just one without the main stars in attendance. Smith has been banned by the motion picture academy for 10 years. Rock has been sticking with stand-up.

Host Jimmy Kimmel — who had been on the Dolby stage in 2017 for The Flub, a moment of Oscar infamy now practically forgotten — has said he will address The Slap. It would be “ridiculous” not to, he told The Hollywood Reporter.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, too, is making preparations. After a sluggish response to Smith’s actions that academy president Janet Yang has called “inadequate,” the Oscars will have their first ever “crisis team” to react to surprises. Kimmel, who has hosted twice before, was brought in partly to have a steady hand on the telecast, which will restore all categories to the live show. Kimmel is the first solo host for the show since the last time he hosted, five years ago.

“We learned from this that the academy must be fully transparent and accountable in our actions,” Yang said at the luncheon last month, “and particularly in times of crisis you must act swiftly, compassionately and decisively for ourselves and for our industry.”

Kimmel’s challenge will be to reference The Slap without allowing another Oscars to become defined by it. Last year, after Smith’s blow and his subsequent yelling from his seat, the Academy Awards stumbled hazily through the rest of an airless ceremony, taking the spotlight away from the landmark win for the deaf drama “CODA” and documentary winner “Summer of Soul,” the award Rock presented to Questlove. Smith also won his first Oscar, for “King Richard.” He didn’t apologize in that moment but did in a statement the following day. Smith soon thereafter resigned his academy membership.

This year, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” comes in with a commanding 11 nominations. Though an unlikely Oscar frontrunner, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s multiverse mash-up is expected to win best picture after sweeping the top guild awards. The Daniels, as they are known, are favored to best Steven Spielberg for best director. Former child star Ke Huy Quan is seen as a lock for best supporting actor. Michelle Yeoh could become the first Asian best actress winner.