Guest post by John Hughes
Admittedly, the Academy Awards show has been of little interest to me for years due to distaste for what I view as their out of touch, elitist culture. This morning I was at a pharmacy and the news happened to show the violence at last night’s annual Academy Awards.
The news clips show Chris Rock insulting Will Smith’s wife in a tasteless joke. Will Smith, dressed in a tuxedo, responding by approaching Chris Rock on stage and hitting him in the face on live TV. Then, he went back to his seat and repeatedly yelled “Keep my wife’s name out of your f-cking mouth.” Will Smith later accepted an award, apologizing only to the Academy for the disturbance, not to Chris Rock. Worse, Bradley Cooper and Denzel Washington appeared to “comfort” Will Smith, furthering the narrative that such behavior should be acceptable in their faux society of wealth and privilege. As of today, Will Smith has not apologized to Chris Rock.
In 2017, the AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) updated its code of conduct. At the time, then CEO Dawn Hudson wrote “Academy membership is a privilege offered to only a select few within the global community of filmmakers.” “There is no place in the Academy for people who abuse their status, power or influence in a manner that violates recognized standards of decency.” Last night, after the violent event, the Academy stated on its official Twitter account: “The Academy does not condone violence of any form. Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.”1 Instead of addressing the issue, the Academy seems to be trying to change the subject and move on.
Recently, actors have been displaying increasingly unethical and sometimes illegal conduct. One notable case occurred in 2017. “As he introduced a screening of his film The Libertine, Johnny Depp asked the audience: “Can you bring Trump here?” After receiving jeers from the crowd, he added: “You misunderstand completely. When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?” The comment seemed to be a reference to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by actor John Wilkes Booth in 1865. “I want to clarify,” he added. “I’m an actor. I lie for a living [but] it’s been a while. Maybe it’s about time.””2 He later apologized, but his career continued as if nothing had happened.3
Will Smith will likely keep his Oscar and be invited back to future Academy Awards events. He may or may not apologize to Chris Rock and to America his violent behavior. The Academy and Hollywood actors seen to have shown little remorse for their unethical behaviors. Perhaps it is time for corporate America to weigh in and block Will Smith and any actors who approve of such behavior from future movie contracts and endorsements and issue public statements condemning the actors and the Academy. Further, perhaps they should cease funding the Academy Awards until the entity meaningfully polices its members and enforces its own code of conduct. For years they have had double standards on violence against women, racial equality, and unethical and criminal conduct of elite entertainers.
Last year saw a record number of deaths from drug overdoses. I have seen no condemnation of the entertainment industry for its part in glorifying and promoting drug use, smoking, and alcoholism. Even the recent overdose related death of the Foo Fighters drummer has stirred little to no reflection on the vices of the entertainment culture.
Corporate American had no problems withholding funds and speaking out against many in America in the past few years over political ideologies. Perhaps it is time they sent a financial message to Hollywood elites that their behaviors are not acceptable and cannot be ignored anymore.
1Nathan, Sara. Could Will Smith Lose His Oscar? Explaining the Academy’s Code of Conduct. New York Post. 28 March 2022
2Johnny Depp on Donald Trump. Crime or Free Speech. BBC.com 23 Jun 20173Stedman, Alex. Johnny Depp Apoligizes for Trump Assassination Joke. Variety 23 Jun 2017.