Every Time Someone Has Been Removed From The Academy (And What Happened)

Since its inception in 1927, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been carrying the torch for filmmaking as an industry, an art form, and a cultural institution. Comprised of actors, filmmakers, and other industry professionals across 17 different branches, the Academy has long held itself as a standard-bearer for the industry, both domestically and abroad. Its most prominent pop-cultural contribution is, not coincidentally, the biggest night in Hollywood: the Academy Awards.

Membership is, if not exactly an exclusive honor - the Academy counts more than 10,000 members on its rolls, with hundreds of new invitations being sent out every year - at least a prestigious one. Admittance is by sponsored invitation only - with the exception of Oscar nominees, who earn automatic consideration.

AMPAS membership is a lifetime privilege - or it was until 2004, when the Academy expelled a member from its ranks for the first time in its history. That expulsion was for sharing copies of VHS "screeners" (free tapes of nominated films that are distributed to Academy members during awards season). Since then, a number of members have been removed - sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not - both for serious legal offenses (including a trio of convicted luminaries in the wake of the #MeToo cultural upheaval) and for comparatively lesser infractions or controversies. An official code of conduct established in 2018 has made guidelines for continued membership somewhat clearer.

Below is a rundown of every Academy member who has ever been discharged from the organization, and why.

  • Will Smith (2022)
    Photo: King Richard / Warner Bros.

    Of all people, and certainly of all major movie stars, Will Smith was just about the most unlikely person ever to snap and physically attack someone during a live broadcast, but that's exactly what happened on March 27, 2022. During a night in which he would eventually take home his first Oscar as best actor for King Richard, the famously squeaky-clean star made much bigger headlines for an instantly infamous altercation with Chris Rock.

    Rock, on stage to present the Oscar for best documentary feature, started with some light crowd work, eventually making a joke about the shaved head of Jada Pinkett Smith, Will's wife. While the joke was initially greeted with laughs from the audience - and a few groans - a few moments later, it turned into something else entirely. Smith marched onto the stage and slapped Rock hard across the face before returning to his seat, where he continued to loudly admonish Rock for the joke at his wife's expense. Rock, after regaining his composure on stage, declared, "Will Smith just slapped the s**t out of me!"

    It was a surreal moment - and one that ultimately overshadowed everything else from the 2022 Oscars ceremony. The Academy announced an investigation into the situation the next day. Perhaps as a preemptive measure, Smith took the step to personally resign from the Academy, and officially apologized in the process:

    I have directly responded to the Academy’s disciplinary hearing notice, and I will fully accept any and all consequences for my conduct. My actions at the 94th Academy Awards presentation were shocking, painful, and inexcusable... The list of those I have hurt is long and includes Chris, his family, many of my dear friends and loved ones, all those in attendance, and global audiences at home.

  • Peter Kurland (2022)
    Photo: No Country for Old Men / Miramax

    The 2022 Oscars ceremony was mired in controversy even before the Will Smith/Chris Rock incident. When Oscars producers announced in 2022 that eight of its categories (including editing, production design, and sound) would not be announced live during the main show, but would be pretaped and edited in later, many industry veterans made their objections known.

    One was acclaimed sound mixer Peter Kurland, a four-time Oscar nominee himself (Walk the Line, No Country for Old Men, True Grit, and Inside Llewyn Davis) who has worked with the Coen brothers since their debut film, 1984's Blood Simple, going from a boom operator early in his career to a sound mixer.

    But the disrespect he felt in the Academy's decision to sideline his category prompted action, and he announced his resignation from the organization just days before the ceremony, telling The Hollywood Reporter:

    I can’t imagine a purpose for staying in an organization that doesn’t respect my craft anymore... I tried to resign today, and they sent me back an email asking me to hold off until next week.

  • Veteran sound specialist Tom Fleischman was another Academy member who objected to the Academy's decision to remove eight categories from the broadcast. He resigned from the Academy in protest.

    Fleischman had his own moment in the Oscars sun during the 2012 ceremony, when he picked up a sound mixing Oscar for Martin Scorsese's Hugo. He was previously nominated for two other Scorsese films, Gangs of New York and The Aviator, as well as The Silence of the Lambs and Reds.

  • Adam Kimmel (2021)
    Photo: Capote / Sony Pictures Classics

    Adam Kimmel's disturbing legal issues, dating back to the early 2000s, had managed to fly under the radar for many years. When he pled guilty to third-degree rape in 2004 after maintaining a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl, he was already an established cinematographer, having shot such films as The Ref and Jesus' Son.

    Though he was a registered felony sex offender, Kimmel managed to keep it under wraps. According to those who worked with him over the years - he continued to work on acclaimed films like Capote and Never Let Me Go even after his 2004 conviction - he never disclosed his criminal record.

    Kimmel ran into the same trouble in 2010, this time for a relationship with another 15-year-old girl. He was charged with failing to register as a sex offender, a Class D felony. His five-year sentence was reduced to 120 days, plus probation.

    Not long after Variety reported on his legal history, the Academy rescinded his membership. He had been a member since 2007.

  • What a difference 15 years and a transformative social movement can make.

    At the 2003 Oscars ceremony, legendary filmmaker Roman Polanski received the best director prize (his first) for The Pianist, and was summarily greeted, in absentia, with a warm standing ovation from the Academy audience.

    The "in absentia" part, of course, owes to Polanski's self-exile from the United States over his 1977 conviction for "unlawful sex" with a 13-year-old girl. The initial charges included rape, but Polanski agreed to a plea bargain on one lesser (though still serious) charge. The story from there is well-known: Believing that the judge in his case was going to ignore the agreed-upon sentencing and give him hefty jail time, Polanski fled the States, and has been officially a fugitive ever since.

    His career continued, and his membership in the Academy was in good standing until the fallout from the #MeToo scandal. In 2018, Polanski was expelled based upon his failure to live up to the Academy's "standards of conduct."

    Polanski sued the organization in an effort to get his membership reinstated, but lost in court.

  • Bill Cosby (2018)
    Photo: The Devil and Max Devlin / Buena Vista Distribution

    Bill Cosby was first known as a legendary stand-up comic, and as a color-barrier-breaking cast member of the 1960s series I Spy. In the 1980s, he became America's favorite TV dad with his wildly influential and long-running sitcom, The Cosby Show. But he maintained an occasional presence on the big screen over the years, as well, with prominent roles in the Oscar-winning Neil Simon adaptation California Suite and the afterlife-based comedy The Devil and Max Devlin.

    During his run as a TV star, he also featured in leading roles in Leonard Part 6 and Ghost Dad, while taking supporting parts in Francis Ford Coppola's Jack and the live-action adaptation of his own creation, Fat Albert.

    But when numerous allegations of decades' worth of sexual predation came to light - at the height of the #MeToo movement, no less - the Academy officially cut ties with him.

    Cosby was eventually convicted on three counts of sexual assault, though the convictions were later overturned after he had spent a few years behind bars.