Oscars Producer Will Packer Gives His Account of What Happened After Slap
Oscars 2022 producer Will Packer is giving his account of what transpired after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock onstage.
Will and Chris shared a heated exchange over a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair — and to the shock of viewers and audience members, it turned physical. Jada suffers from alopecia, reportedly unbeknownst to Chris at the time.
Packer sat down with ABC News’ TJ Holmes for a segment on “Good Morning America,” where he recalled his initial reaction to the altercation and what happened afterward.
Packer said Chris was “freestyling” onstage, saying, “I wasn’t concerned at all… I thought something funny was going to happen because that’s the nature of Chris and that’s the nature of Will.” As the incident unfolded, he said he thought maybe it was planned, but said when Will sat down next to Jada, yelling, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f—king mouth,” that’s when he knew it was a real confrontation.
The producer continued, “Once I saw Will yelling at the stage with such vitriol, my heart dropped and I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, no, not like this,’ and Chris was keeping his head when everybody else was losing theirs.” He said that’s when Rock delivered the line, “That was the greatest night in the history of television.”
Packer felt “immediately devastated” after the squabble, but wasn’t sure Chris had actually been hit.
Backstage, Packer spoke with Chris. "I said, 'Did he really hit you?’ And he looked at me and he goes: 'I just took a punch from Muhammad Ali.' It's exactly what he said, as only Chris can, you know. He was immediately in joke mode, but you could tell that he was very much still in shock."
“I made that clear, ‘Rock, you tell me, whatever you want to do brother,’” Packer said, claiming, “He told me ‘I’m fine, let’s just get past this. I’m getting out of here.’”
Packer went on, “The LAPD came and needed to talk to Chris. They came into my office, they were laying out very clearly what Chris’ rights were.”
Will recalled, “They were saying, ‘This is battery, we will go get him, we are prepared, we are prepared to get him right now, you can press charges, we can arrest him.’ As they were talking, Chris… was being very dismissive of those options. He was like, ‘No, no, no…’ They said, ‘Would you like us to take any action?’ and he said, ‘No.’”
Packer insisted, “I didn’t have any conversation with Will [Smith].”
There have been reports that Smith was asked to leave, but refused.
According to Packer, “Someone told me that they were about to physically remove Will Smith, and I had not been a part of those conversations, so 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, aggressive, or angry. So, I was advocating for what Rock wanted in that time, which was not to physically remove Will Smith at that time.”
He added, “As it has now been explained to me, that was the only option at that point. It has been explained to me that there was a conversation that I was not a part of to ask him to voluntarily leave.”
A source disputes Packer’s account, saying Chris was never asked if Will should stay or go. After Packer’s interview aired, the insider told TMZ, "Chris told Packer, 'I'm not pressing charges. All I want to do is leave.' He was never asked if he wanted Will removed. This is the Academy covering itself."
An Academy source insisted to the site, "Will Packer is not speaking on behalf of the Academy."
As far as Will staying at the ceremony, Packer told "GMA" he wished Smith had used his acceptance speech for Best Actor to apologize. "He couldn't make it right in that moment... but I think we were hoping he would make it better."
Meanwhile, Packer heard from Will Smith the next day. “Will Smith reached out to me the next morning and he apologized. He said, ‘This should have been a gigantic moment for you,’ and he expressed his embarrassment, and that was the extent of it.”
The producer also credited Rock with “saving” the show, saying, “Because Chris handled the moment with such grace and aplomb, it allowed the show to continue,” explaining that the night “could have gone so many different ways” after the smackdown. “Because Chris continued the way he did — he completed the category, he handed the trophy to Questlove, somebody who was really robbed of their moment — it gave us license to continue the show, which is what we were trying to do.”
Calling the incident “sad and disappointing” to see, he said, “It was such a huge moment and… it wasn’t something that we were gonna come back from within that night, within this week. I don’t know when we’ll come back and people will be talking about anything else other than this show.”
This week, in the aftermath of the Oscars, Rock told the audience at his sold-out show in Boston that he’s still “processing” what happened.
Smith issued a public apology, calling his behavior “unacceptable and inexcusable.” He wrote on Instagram, “Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive… Jokes at my expense are part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally. I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”
“I would also like to apologize to the Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world,” Will continued. “I would like to apologize to the Williams Family and my King Richard Family. I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us. I am a work in progress.”