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Oscars 2022 producer Will Packer says he told the Academy not to remove Will Smith from the ceremony, because it’s not what Chris Rock wanted.
Will Smith continues to make headlines after the Oscars ‘Slapgate’ on Sunday. Ceremony producer Will Packer spoke about the incident on Good Morning America this week, recounting that Chris Rock allegedly didn’t want the actor to leave.
I thought it was part of something that Chris and Will were doing on their own. I thought it was a bit. I wasn’t concerned at all, Packer said, adding that Rock went off-script after Smith slapped him for a Jada Pinkett Smith-directed joke.
“I said, ‘Watch this, he’s going to kill,’ because I knew he had an amazing lineup of jokes that we had. We had him in the prompter and ultimately he did not get to one joke. He didn’t tell one of the planned jokes,” Packer said.
When Rock left the stage, Packer says he approached the comedian. “I said, ‘Did he really hit you?’” Packer asked Rock. “And he looked at me and he goes, ‘Yeah, I just took a punch from Muhammad Ali,’ as only Chris can. He was immediately in joke mode, but you could tell that he was very much still in shock.”
“I knew it was clearly a confrontational moment because of what was happening from Will in the audience, but I still wasn’t sure that he actually struck him,” Packer added. “I made that clear, like, ‘Rock, you tell me, whatever you want to do, brother,’ and he was telling me, ‘I’m fine.’”
Following the incident, since-denied reports have swirled that The Academy wanted to remove Smith from the ceremony, conversations that Packer says he wasn’t a part of.
“I immediately went to the Academy leadership that was on site and I said, ‘Chris Rock doesn’t want that.’ I said, ‘Rock has made it clear that he does not want to make a bad situation worse.’ That was Chris’ energy. His tone was not retaliatory, it was not angry, so I was advocating what Rock wanted in that time, which was not to physically remove Will Smith at that time because, as it has now been explained to me, that was the only option at that point,” Packer said.
Smith won his first Oscar for Best Actor during Sunday’s ceremony, and Packer says the actor reached out to him the next morning to apologize for slapping Rock. The producer says that Smith deserved his King Richard win, even defending Academy members who gave the actor a standing ovation.
“It wasn’t like this was somebody they didn’t know,” Packer said. “It doesn’t make anything that he did right, and doesn’t excuse that behavior at all, but I think that the people in that room who stood up stood up for somebody who they knew, who was a peer, who was a friend, who was a brother, who has a three decades-plus long career of being the opposite of what we saw in that moment. I think these people saw the person that they know and were hoping that somehow, some way this was an aberration… I don’t think that these were people that were applauding anything at all about that moment.”