On Friday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Will Smith will be banned from attending the Oscars and related events for ten years. The King Richard star—who won the best actor award at the 2022 Oscars but drew more attention for slapping presenter Chris Rock—resigned from the Academy following the ceremony.
The New York Times reported that while there has been no official statement about whether or not Smith will be eligible for Oscar nominations, insiders told the Times that he will be.
The Academy moved swiftly and decisively to create consequences for Smith’s wrongdoing. It took less than two weeks to investigate and institute a punishment. In the past, when Oscar winners have committed acts of violence far, far worse than a slap, how has the Academy responded? In 2018, the Academy Awards expelled Roman Polanski. That was 30 years after Polanski admitted to statutory rape.
It’s not that crazy for the Academy to respond to Smith with repercussions. But it is crazy, zooming out, to see how the entertainment industry responds to one Black man’s highly visible bad behavior, versus a white man’s unrepentant evil.
In 2002, Roman Polanski won the Oscar for best director for the movie The Pianist. In footage of his win, you can see the triumph that swept the room—people leapt out of their seats, clapping like they’re at a rally for human rights. Polanski, of course, was not present. He fled the United States in 1978 after pleading guilty to “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor,” that is, he raped a 13-year-old girl.
In the years between the child rape and the Academy Award, Polanski never showed remorse, doubling down instead on the claim that “everyone wants to fuck young girls.” Recounting the event in his memoir, Polanski defended himself. “She was not unresponsive,” he wrote, of the 13-year-old. Apologists tend to use the “It was a different time!” defense, but legally it wasn’t. The age of consent in California has been 18 since 1913, Brian Palmer noted in Slate.