Why Will Smith’s resignation from the Academy is a hollow gesture

I was surprised, and I will admit I was relieved, to read about Will Smith’s resignation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. I had been sure that Smith would follow in the footsteps of Jussie Smollett and Alec Baldwin, two criminals who cried large crocodile tears and blamed everybody else for their wrongdoings. True, Smith did start out with exercising his tear ducts and he did apologize to everyone but his victim, Chris Rock, until public outrage forced an empty apology to Rock, but with his Academy resignation, I believed he had finally come to his senses. That’s because I assumed that, by resigning from the Academy, Smith was making a genuine gesture of contrition.

I’m the sort who doesn’t believe in leaning on assumptions, so I did a little research on just what it means to resign from the Academy. First, I learned that only five people have ever been expelled from the Academy. Carmine Caridi, who had a role in The Godfather Part 2, was kicked out of the Academy for sharing preview screeners of movies. Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski, and Adam Kimmel were all thrown out for their sex crimes.

Image: Will Smith’s tears. YouTube screen grab.

I felt more sure than ever that being removed from the Academy was a terrible punishment. It turns out, though, that it’s the merest slap on the wrist. Only members of the Academy can vote on nominations. They also get copies of preview screeners of movies. That’s pretty much it. Smith gets to keep his Oscar, he can still be invited to future Academy Awards ceremonies, and he can still be nominated for future awards. Smith also has all the money and prestige his decades-long career has generated, and he can still cry on the shoulders of supporters like Denzel Washington.

I must wonder now if Smith’s resignation is a ploy to avoid further discipline. SAG-AFTRA, the union popularly known as the Screen Actors Guild, has strict rules governing the workplace.

Chris Rock was assaulted in the workplace. The union has condemned Smith’s behavior and, while expulsion from the Academy is now off the table, Smith could be “reprimanded, censured, fined, suspended or expelled from membership in the Union.”

Meanwhile, Chris Rock continues to show the strength and dignity that have won him worldwide admiration. Chris went on stage in Boston after the Academy Awards, took the high road by refusing to discuss the incident, and even shut down a fan in the audience who yelled curses about Smith. Maybe next year there should be a special Oscar for grace under pressure. Chris would win it hands down.

Pandra Selivanov is the author of The Pardon, a story of forgiveness based on the thief on the cross in the Bible. 

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