Will Smith
Will SmithCourtesy of Western Wall Heritage Foundation

Actor Will Smith was asked to leave the Oscars ceremony after he slapped presenter Chris Rock but refused, Hollywood's film academy said on Wednesday, according to a report in the Reuters news agency.

During the live telecast, Smith strode up to the stage after Rock made a joke about the appearance of Smith's wife, then slapped the comedian in the face before returning to his seat and yelling an obscenity at Rock.

Less than an hour later, Smith accepted the best actor trophy, prompting questions about why he was not escorted out.

"Things unfolded in a way we could not have anticipated," said the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars, in a statement quoted by Reuters on Wednesday.

"While we would like to clarify that Mr. Smith was asked to leave the ceremony and refused, we also recognize we could have handled the situation differently."

The academy said it started a process that could lead to discipline against Smith for violations of its standards of conduct. Suspension, expulsion or other sanctions may be approved at its next board meeting on April 18.

Smith on Monday apologized to Rock, writing in a post on Instagram that his behavior ceremony was "unacceptable and inexcusable."

"I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris," Smith wrote. "I was out of line and I was wrong."

"Jokes at my expense are part of the job, but a joke about Jada's medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally," said Smith, adding, "I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be."