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The Oscar’s New Crisis Management Team

Credit: lincolnblues

It is difficult to believe that it has been a full year since the infamous and still very culturally relevant “Slapgate,” and event that refers to the 94th Oscar Ceremony, where Will Smith walked on stage and slapped Chris Rock in the face after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith.

“Slapgate” ended almost as quickly as it began. Rock made a G.I. Jane joke on stage about Pinkett-Smith’s shaved head, a result of her alopecia, a condition which Rock claims he was unaware of. However, Rock was making a reference to the 1997 Demi Moore film, where Moore had shaven her had to play the titular role of G.I. Jane. Initially, the camera cuts to Smith, who is laughing with the rest of the crowd. But, Pinkett-Smith gave Smith a dirty look, which prompted Smith to walk up to the stage and slap Rock across the face. Rock, as well as both the live and TV audiences, were in complete dismay. By the time Rock could say “Will Smith just smacked the s*** out of me,” Smith had returned to his seat. Then, from his seat, Smith yelled twice, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f****** mouth.” After the minute or so long encounter, Rock was left with nothing to say or do but continue presenting the next award. Smith was not removed by security or asked to leave the event, and stayed for the remainder of the evening. In fact, Smith was announced as an Oscar winner only moments later that evening.

In the immediate aftermath the incident dominated news cycles, trended on social media platforms, and sparked great debate. This debate encompassed topics such as whether the joke was appropriate, whether Will’s actions were completely unwarranted, and whether the Academy properly handled the situation. With conversation relating to the event persisting for one year now, it is clear that this was a culturally significant event that will be remembered for quite some time. In fact, Chris Rock just brought the event back into mainstream media by discussing the incident in his new, highly anticipated, live standup comedy show on Netflix. These jokes included making light of the situation, while also allowing Chris Rock to publicly address his side of the confrontation.

Last year, the organization emphasized there was a lack of preparation, stating, “During our telecast, we did not adequately address the situation in the room . . . [as this was] an opportunity for us to set an example for our guests, viewers and our Academy family around the world, and we fell short—unprepared for the unprecedented.” However, this will not be the case this year. Due to the immediate and lasting backlash the academy received for its improper handling of the event, the Academy’s Legal Department implemented a crisis team to attend the 95th Oscar Ceremony. The crisis team is a way for the Academy to be more prepared and combat these unprecedented situations. Chief Executive Officer of the Academy, Bill Kramer, said, “We have a whole crisis team, something we’ve never had before, and many plans in place . . . . We’ve run many scenarios. So, it is our hope that we will be prepared for anything that we may not anticipate right now but that we’re planning for just in case it does happen.” Further, Kramer emphasized that the Academy is “prepared should anything as unusual as ‘the slap’ happen again.” Therefore, in creating this crisis team, the Academy is now prepared to respond to crises in real time and avoid any future public backlash and potential liability.

With the new crisis team, the Academy will be able to further mitigate potential liability during the Oscars. While Rock did not press charges, he could have. It is possible that Smith could still be criminally and civilly liable for assault and battery—as they are still within the statute of limitations. The slap would have been considered an assault, which is defined as “an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.” Further, the slap is likely also a battery, “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.” Due to this, the Academy could face premise liability, also still within the statute of limitations. In this specific instance, if it was determined that there was negligent or inadequate security at the event that led to his injury, Rock likely would have a viable claim against the Academy. Thus, the crisis team not only helps the Academy win favor of public opinion but could actually protect the Academy from liability in a lot of instances.

Thus, with the 95th Oscar Ceremony this weekend, all eyes turn back to the Academy. While it is unlikely a similar event will occur, the Academy is prepared to mitigate damage through the crisis management team avoiding further public outrage and liability against the Ceremony's attendees.

*The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of Santa Clara University.


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