David Oyelowo Fears Will Smith Oscars Incident Will Have 'Negative Effect' on 'Push for Inclusion'

"This incident should not be a springboard for proxy arguments in Hollywood circles about race, respectability and belonging," David Oyelowo wrote in a column published Thursday

David Oyelowo attends the 2022 Governors Awards at The Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 25, 2022 in Hollywood, California.
Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty

David Oyelowo is sharing his thoughts on the incident at the Oscars involving Will Smith and Chris Rock, reflecting on race and equality.

The Selma star, 46, wrote a guest column in The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday, in which he discussed his reaction to Smith smacking Rock, which he witnessed in person as an attendee of the Academy Awards ceremony on March 27.

"The moment I realized the nature of what had just occurred on the stage at the Dolby Theatre, I was confronted by the same rising anxiety all Black people feel when the face that flashes up on the news after a crime is reported, is a Black one," Oyelowo wrote. "You find yourself thinking, 'What does this mean for us?' 'What does that mean for me?' "

The British-born actor then recounted an exchange at an Oscars afterparty and said he "was immediately confronted by that which I feared."

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"An older white gentleman sidled up to me with relish in his demeanor and said, 'He should have been dragged right out of there,' " Oyelowo wrote, in reference to Smith. "You may well agree with that sentiment, but it's not what he said, it's the way he said it. I know that relish. I know that demeanor, and it is ugly to its core in all of its coded messaging."

While he singled out this one anecdote, the Emmy nominee contextualized the encounter within a changing Hollywood and awards landscape — noting that the industry has made "great gains" since #OscarsSoWhite — and openly wondered whether the slap would erode some of the progress the industry has made toward a more inclusive and equitable atmosphere.

"In the wake of George Floyd's murder, the entertainment industry made a lot of pledges to increase the diversity of our business. Some intentional. Some ceremonial. My fear is that this unfortunate incident, which has us all processing, will have a negative effect on the ongoing push for inclusion," he wrote.

"There are those who, in a bid to make sure something of this nature never happens again, will operate through an unconscious — or conscious — bias. A bias that still governs so much of the decision-making in Hollywood. It would be tragic if a bid to prevent such an incident from happening again becomes an excuse for ideas about inclusion and diversity to backslide."

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"It would be naive to assume that the incident between Will Smith and Chris Rock will not be pushed, by some industry professionals, through the lens of race," he also wrote, going on to note that those strides of progress are still not enough: "We still have barely any Black executives who have the autonomy to greenlight anything that gets made."

"We must be vigilant against decision-making that would detrimentally affect the gains made by the likes of the Academy, [former Academy president] Cheryl Boone Isaacs, and all of those fighting for a more diverse, inclusive and equitable entertainment industry and world," the actor wrote.

"I'm calling on the good people with good intentions to stay focused on building on the great gains we've recently made. They mustn't be eroded by those with bad intentions who would seek with relish to weaponize this incident to derail those gains and divide us."

On Oscars Sunday, Smith, 53, struck comedian Rock, 57, immediately after Rock made a joke about Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, potentially being in a G.I. Jane sequel.

The actress and Red Table Talk host, 50, has been embracing her hair loss because she has alopecia, which also causes bald spots.

After Smith walked back to his seat, he yelled from the audience, "Keep my wife's name out your f---ing mouth."

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Chris Rock and Will Smith at the Oscars on March 27, 2022. Robyn Beck/getty

For more on the Will Smith-Chris Rock incident at the Oscars, listen below to our daily podcast on PEOPLE Every Day.

Smith indirectly addressed his behavior later in the telecast, during his own acceptance speech for the Best Actor statuette for his performance in King Richard. The actor has since apologized on Instagram and in a media statement, in which he also resigned as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the governing body behind the Oscars.

AMPAS, for its part, has moved up a previously-scheduled meeting from April 18 to this Friday to discuss any further sanctions or consequences for the actor in light of his behavior, citing the organization's code of conduct.

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