The Oscars Are Slapped by Reality

Thom Weidlich 02.23.23


Fearing a sequel to last year’s dud, the group that runs Hollywood’s Academy Awards has gotten its act — and a crisis communications team — together in time for next month’s ceremony. It’s refreshing to see an organization learn from its mistakes. Others should take note.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was roundly panned last year for its response to the “slap heard around the world.” That was the infamous incident at the Oscars in which actor Will Smith took umbrage at a joke host Chris Rock cracked about his wife, and leaped on the stage and slapped him.

In a Time interview published Tuesday, the academy’s CEO, Bill Kramer (pictured), said that for the first time in the organization’s history it has put together a crisis team to deal with any repeat performance of an unexpected and unwanted event.

‘Many Scenarios’

The academy has “many plans in place,” Kramer said. “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.”

It’s great to witness an organization adopt, however belatedly, the crisis communications playbook. Kramer said that “these crisis plans — the crisis communication teams and structures we have in place — allow us to say this is the group that we have to gather very quickly. This is how we all come together. This is the spokesperson. This will be the statement.”

Kramer said it’s important to ensure “that you have the right groups of members and leaders and stakeholders who can come together to have a voice in this conversation.” He noted that, while the academy hopes not to have to activate the plan, it expects to be flexible if needed and to modify depending on the situation.

Yup, that’s good crisis preparation.

Crisis Planning

Of course, crisis planning for a single night, even one as mega-big as the Oscars, is easy compared to prepping for crises — facility fires, product issues, lawsuits — that may hit a company any time of the day, month or year. But sitting back and thinking of what could go wrong and how to respond is exactly what’s required. In overoptimism lurks danger.

The interviewer reminded Kramer that Janet Yang, the academy’s president, recently said its response to last year’s incident was inadequate. It was indeed muddled. At first, the group appeared to do nothing. In a statement afterward, it said it had asked Smith to leave but he refused (he went on to win the Best Actor award that night). It admitted it “could have handled the situation differently.”

It eventually launched an investigation and banned Smith from the awards ceremony for 10 years. The actor resigned from the academy.

Adequate Response

Kramer was asked what an adequate response would look like.

“As an institution, we need to move swiftly and compassionately and to engage with our members and nominees in a very transparent way,” he said. “Let’s hope something like this never happens again — but we could have moved more quickly.”

For your consideration: This year’s Oscars are on March 12.

Photo Credit: lev radin/Shutterstock

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