Civil Dialogue

So Will Smith is Where the Academy Draws the Line?

Photo from Flicker | Budiey
Written by Guy Nave

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this, because far better social critics will have far better critiques to make with regards to this.

Allow me to simply say how amazed (but not surprised) I am at how QUICKLY and forcefully the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences responded to Will Smith’s slap of Chris Rock.

As most of the world knows, on Sunday, March 27, 2022, Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on stage at the 94th Academy Awards after Rock made an offensive joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

Twelve days after that event, the Academy has announced that Will Smith will be banned from attending the Academy Awards for the next 10 years.

The Board of Governors said in a previous statement that they wanted the matter to be “handled in a timely fashion.

I would love to see the Academy act this swiftly and forcefully in response to acts that actually warrant swift and forceful responses.

Rather than being banned, Roman Polanski was awarded an Oscar in 2003, even though Polanski fled the country 25 years earlier following his conviction of sexual assault after drugging and raping a 13-year old girl. Polanski received a standing ovation for the award.

Harrison Ford not only accepted the award on the fugitive’s behalf, Ford met Polanski later that year at the Festival of American Film in Deauville, France in order to deliver the award to Polanski.

It took an additional 15 years for the Academy to actually take action against Polanski. In 2018 the Academy expelled Polanski stating, “The Board continues to encourage ethical standards that require members to uphold the Academy’s values of respect for human dignity.”

Interestingly, the Academy expelled Polanski the same time it expelled Bill Cosby. Cosby was expelled one week after being found guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman. Polanski’s expulsion, however, occurred 39 years after Polanski pleaded guilty to raping a 13-year-old girl at a photo shoot that occurred at actor Jack Nicholson’s house. Film director, Quentin Tarantino said at the time the 13-year-old girl “wanted” it.

The Academy (and much of white America) often reacts quickly and forcefully with moral outrage in response to so-called “inappropriate” behavior demonstrated by black people, but less quickly and forcefully in response to similar and worse behavior demonstrated by white people.

Not only did the Academy award Polanski an Oscar after his rape conviction and take nearly 40 years to condemn his action, the Academy spent decades ignoring rape accusations against Harvey Weinstein before it was forced to remove him from its membership. How does this represent “the Academy’s values of respect for human dignity”?

Does Will Smith’s behavior even remotely compare to behavior exhibited by Roman Polanski, Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Michael Douglas, Richard Dreyfuss, Paul Haggis, James Franco, Kevin Spacey, Casey Affleck, Mel Gibson, Arthur Freed, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and countless more white actors?

The fact that many readers may be totally unaware of behavior exhibited by many of the actors I just named reveals how little attention and outrage is often generated in response to inappropriate behavior exhibited by white people in general and white (male) actors in particular.

While many people may feel the swift and forceful action taken against Will Smith is appropriate, it is worth asking, “WHY is moral outrage often quicker and more forceful when directed toward black people than when directed toward white people?”

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About the author

Guy Nave

Guy Nave is a professor of religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. His research focuses on the topics of Christianity, religion and social justice, the social construction of religious meaning, and race-religion-and-politics. Professor Nave is currently researching the power, politics, and meaning behind the rhetoric of "change."

He is the author of several articles and book chapters, and he served as a New Testament Greek translator for the 2011 Common English Bible. His commentary on 2 Corinthians is published in the African American New Testament Commentary, and his book, The Role and Function of Repentance in Luke-Acts has been identified as “the standard scholarly work on repentance in the New Testament.”

Guy Nave received his Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and his Ph.D. in New Testament studies from Yale University. In addition to his blog posts here, he is a frequent contributor to Sojourners Magazine's online "Commentary" blog series.

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