It was the slap seen around the world. During the single most awkward moment at this past Sunday’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ annual Oscar ceremony, actor Will Smith got so mad when presenter Chris Rock made cheap comment at the appearance of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, that he stormed the stage and literally smacked him across the face. Rock – a comic already known for his abrasive sense of humor – was about to present the award for Best Feature Length Documentary, when he started his usual routine of picking on some of his fellow celebrities – including the Smiths who were seated in the front row.
In recent years Jada has been suffering from alopecia, so she sat beside her husband with her bald head. In an industry that puts so much emphasis on looks, with most everyone – especially women – trying to out-coiffure and out-style one another, Jada appeared defiant and comfortable with her new-found condition. If not comfortable, at least accepting. When Rock turned to her and said, “G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it,” he was referencing the 1997 movie “G.I. Jane” about a fictional first female Navy SEAL candidate, where actress Demi Moore portrayed the title character and even shaved her head as part of her method-style acting. If you watch the moment, it’s obvious Will got the joke and started to laugh. But his wife rolls her eyes, as if she was suddenly offended. At that point, Will snapped and practically ambushed Rock, then proceeded to curse him out once back at his seat.
The audience gasps are audibly apparent, and the mood suddenly darkened. What many in the theatre and global audience thought was a staged incident turned out to be brutally real. Will Smith really slapped Chris Rock across the face! Rock – in his usual comedic, show-must-go-on persona – seemed to brush off the incident and continued with his presentation.
Things seemed to get more awkward when – some 35 minutes later – Smith won the Best Actor award.
But the response has been insane and surreal. Social media (of course) blew up with Smith defenders and critics, as memes mocking the fiasco exploded across the cyber universe. The incident made national news, and late night talk show hosts have had fun with it.
The Oscar ceremonies have dealt with plenty of controversy over the decades. A kerfuffle arose over Hattie McDaniel’s Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role in “Gone with the Wind”. She was the first African-American to be nominated for and to win an Oscar in any category. Just as many eyebrows were raised when “Midnight Cowboy” became the first (and to date, only) X-rated film to win a Best Picture Oscar. George C. Scott created a tiff when he refused to accept his 1970 Best Actor Oscar for “Patton”. One of the biggest fiascos arose two years later, when Marlon Brando didn’t appear at the Oscar ceremonies to receive his Best Actor award for “The Godfather”. Protesting the treatment of Native Americans, he sent a would-be actress attired in Indian headdress to speak for him. The audience booed her as she exited the stage. The following year saw another unexpected moment, when a male streaker pranced across the stage behind David Niven.
Over the past several days, just about everyone has an opinion about the Rock-Smith flap. Ricky Gervais tweeted a clip from his popular TV show “The Office” that pokes fun at alopecia. Like Rock, Gervais is known for his unbridled humor. If everyone who got offended by his jokes took a swing at him, a coroner would have to identify him by whatever little pulp of his flesh remained. Comedian Kathy Griffin – definitely no stranger to controversy – worried openly that Will Smith’s actions could pose a danger to everyone in her profession, if the incident goes unchecked.
It has to be noted that Smith apologized to the Academy during his acceptance speech, but waited until the next day to apologize to Rock. Jada has now opined and called for a “season of healing” – whatever that’s supposed to mean. These latter two statements naturally came out on social media.
The matter took a more serious turn when the Academy’s Board of Governors decided to convene and discuss possible actions against Smith, including stripping him of his award. That has never happened in the institute’s history. If bad behavior on or off stage is reason to rescind someone’s Oscar, then the majority of recipients would be award-less.
The show’s producer, Will Packer, now confirms that Academy officials asked Will Smith to leave the Dolby Theatre, but he refused. Moreover, Los Angeles police (who are always present for such a large-scale event) entered the chaos and said they could arrest Smith. After all, it was felony assault. Packer says he deferred to Rock who refused to demand Smith be arrested. Now, this about this for a moment. How many of you believe you could bitch-slap someone in a public forum and then be given the option of vacating the premises?
One unique irony of the incident is that, just last week, Jada posted a TikTok video stating she doesn’t give “two craps” what people think of her now and how she looks. So what happened at Sunday night’s event? She suddenly got offended? Or is that woman’s prerogative to change her mind suddenly manifest itself?
I couldn’t care less. One egotistical celebrity attacking another egotistical celebrity because his feelings were hurt amidst a pack of overrated zealots gathered to bloviate how wonderful they all are doesn’t bother me. Will Smith’s actions shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, he’s a rapper at heart, so violence and vulgarity are in his blood. Neither he nor his wife are exactly class acts.
Jada admitted a few years ago that she had strayed from their union on more than one occasion. She confessed to having entanglements – meaning she fucked around. But Hollywood is like Washington, D.C.: if you want loyalty, get a dog.
Understand one thing: Jada is suffering from alopecia – not cancer! She’s losing her hair – not her life! Considering that thousands of our military personnel from returned from Afghanistan and Iraq without limbs – if they didn’t come home in body bags – and what’s happening now in Ukraine, it’s really tough for me to feel sorry for an over-hyped actress who has an image problem.
Jada is a selfish, egotistical wench who went from empowered to pissed off in a nanosecond. And her husband felt into her trap as he let himself get sucked into the proverbial chivalrous role of male protector; a man willing to become violent to uphold the dignity of his woman. In this case, a woman who had already disrespected him by entangling with other people and then playing the victim when someone made a joke about her hair. Spare me the drama!
Of all the antics I’ve seen at the Oscar festivities, I have NEVER seen anyone physically assault another person! This is truly a first.
The show produced a few other unique firsts. “CODA” became the first film with a majority physically challenged cast to win the Best Picture Oscar. Troy Kotsur became the first deaf man to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, while Ariana DeBose became the first queer woman of color to win Best Supporting Actress. (Curiously, DeBose won the same award for the same role that Rita Moreno won 60 years ago. They’re the only two Hispanic actresses to win acting Oscars – something that annoys me more than a fight over hair follicles.)
On Friday, April 1, Smith declared that he will resign from the Academy. But the damage is already done.
The Rock-Smith incident will forever be sealed into the memory of the American public. No one who saw it – either as it played out or later – will ever forget it. Will Smith will forever be known as the guy who struck someone on live television in front of a global audience. His award does not overshadow what he did to Chris Rock; what he did to Chris Rock will overshadow his award. No matter what he says or does now, he will never be able to escape that.