An Apology: Was It Really?

The Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, March 27, 2022, was more than just entertaining: it provided an important lesson on apologies.

When Chris Rock came forward to present the award for Best Documentary Feature, he joked about seeing Jada Pinkett Smith (wife of Will Smith) in G. I Jane 2 due to the fact that she was bald. Giving Chris Rock the benefit of the doubt (which he later confirmed), he did not know that Ms. Pinkett Smith was suffering from alopecia- or rapid hair loss. Ms. Pinkett Smith did not laugh.

Then Will Smith got up from his seat, went onto stage and hit Chris Rock for the unkind joke about his wife. He returned to his seat and the show went on. (After Will Smith’s slap, the Oscars took a turn : NPR)

Later, Will Smith won the award for best actor. As part of his acceptance speech, he stated, “I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to all of my fellow nominees….” Notably, he did not apologize to Chris Rock.

Was his simple, “I apologize” sufficient? Not really. (And this is ignoring the fact that he did not apologize to the one person he wronged- Chris Rock.). (

To be effective, an apology must contain several elements. First and foremost, it must be sincere.  Second, it must contain an acknowledgement of wrongdoing; that is, the apologizer acknowledges that he committed a wrongful act and its impact on the person wronged. Next, the wrongdoer must accept responsibility. The wrongdoer should also promise to refrain from committing the wrongful act again and finally but not least, the wrongdoer must offer compensation or recompense to the victim for any loss suffered by the victim. (Frenkel, Douglas A. and Stark, James, H., The Practice of Mediation (3d. ed. Wolters Kluwer, New York 2018) at 261-265.).

So, while Will Smith was sincere in his words, “I apologize,” his apology to the third persons- both the audience attending and those watching- omitted all of the remaining elements. And as noted, he did NOT apologize to his victim.

If anything, Will Smith’s apology was a “safe” apology- done to avoid being kicked out of the Academy and to mitigate the bad publicity that is sure to come since the entire world was watching.  Will it accomplish these purposes?

It seems not. On Monday afternoon- undoubtedly due to much pressure including condemnation by the Academy- Will Smith issued a public apology to Chris Rock and to the  Academy:

Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are a 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. 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.(Will Smith on Instagram: “Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable.…”)

Will this belated apology be sufficient? Again only time will tell. No matter what,  this incident provides a memorable lesson on apologies.

And that is just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE

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