For movie lovers and filmmakers alike, the annual Academy Awards are an unforgettable event, but not always just for the wins, snubs and iconic style moments — as actor Will Smith’s stunning (and literal) on-stage smack in comedian Chris Rock’s face showed us at last night’s 2022 Oscars.
The situation seems to evoke many different reactions from different people — with some lauding Smith for defending his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, against Rock’s remarks and others calling out Smith’s physical attack as an unacceptable use of violence. Here we’re rounding up what happened at the Oscars — and exploring some of the history between the actors and the comedian.
What happened between Will Smith and Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars?
First things first: here’s the gist of what happened between Rock and Smith at the Oscars.
The incident began when Rock took the stage to present the Oscar for best documentary feature. Rock began with some jokes at the audience’s expense, before turning his attention to Pinkett Smith, who has a closely shaved hairstyle (and who has been public about her struggles with the condition alopecia, which causes hair loss). In reference to the 1997 movie G.I. Jane (in which Demi Moore famously shaved her head), Rock said, “Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it, all right?”
The televised show’s camera cut to Pinkett Smith, who rolled her eyes and appeared visually unimpressed with Rock’s joke.
Next, Smith walked onto the stage and slapped Rock.
When Smith returned to his seat, he shouted: “Keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth.”
In response, Rock said that he would and announced the award.
Later in the evening, Smith won the Oscar for best actor for his role in King Richard. In his tearful speech, Smith alluded to the incident and apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees, but did not apologize to Rock.
There was prior conflict between Chris Rock, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith
For context, prior to the 2022 Oscars, Rock’s history with Smith and Pinkett Smith goes back to the ‘90s, and there was already some established Academy Awards-themed animosity between Rock, Smith and Pinkett Smith.
“…Jada went mad. Will went mad. Everybody went mad. You know? It’s like, Jada got mad. Jada said she’s not coming, protesting” Rock said. “…Isn’t she on a TV show? Jada’s gonna boycott the Oscars? Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”
In the same 2016 Oscars monologue, Rock also joked about Smith. “Will was not nominated for Concussion,” Rock said. “I get it… You get mad. It’s not fair that Will was this good and didn’t get nominated. You’re right. It’s also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for Wild Wild West.”
Rock’s joke about Pinkett Smith’s hair was crude and insensitive
Aside from the history between the comedian and the couple, it’s hard not to argue that Rock’s remarks about Pinkett Smith’s hair crossed a line. Though Pinkett Smith has spoken about her health struggles in relation to her hair, she shouldn’t have to in order to not have her appearance publicly mocked while a camera is on her at the biggest award’s show in her industry.
In 2022, someone’s physical appearance should not be considered a breezy punchline. This is true for all people and all women, and it is especially so for Black women, for whom we’ve argued “hair is never just hair,” and is imbued with meaning.
While some argue that Rock may not have known about Pinkett Smith’s condition, this in itself doesn’t excuse him from knowing better in this case. Rock has previously presented himself as a champion and supporter of the connections between hair and the Black community — he literally produced, narrated and co-wrote Good Hair, an award-winning 2009 documentary exploring the impact and relationship between hairstyles on the Black community.
Smith did not have to physically respond
While the ways in which Rock was in the wrong may be clear, Smith’s reaction was undeniably physical and violent. While it appears that Rock was physically fine after the slap (though visibly shaken), no matter the context or where the altercation happened, turning to violence is not OK — whether you’re on stage at the Oscars or in a private setting. Moreover, by taking this escalating step in defense of Pinkett Smith, Smith effectively focussed the situation squarely about himself — instead of the person who the harmful joke targeted. Can Pinkett Smith now comment on the situation without being overshadowed by her husband’s reaction?
In terms of legal repercussions, the LAPD confirmed that Rock declined to file a police report after the incident.
What was the Academy’s response to the incident?
Because the incident happened at the Oscars, there could be further repercussions for Smith and his award.
After the event, the Academy tweeted the following statement on the subject of violence: “The Academy does not condone violence of any form. Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.”
The Academy has a code of conduct, which, as Variety outlines, states:
“There is no place in the Academy for people who abuse their status, power or influence in a manner that violates recognized standards of decency. The Academy is categorically opposed to any form of abuse, harassment or discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, age, religion or nationality.”
With this in mind, some are speculating that the incident could call for Smith to be asked to give up his Oscar.
Smith, for his part, was in good spirits and seen dancing with Pinkett Smith at the Vanity Fair Oscar party. And, as Page Six reported, Sean “Diddy” Combs told the outlet at the same party that the beef had been resolved. “That’s not a problem. That’s over,” Combs told Page Six. “I can confirm that.” Combs apparently also added, “It’s all love…they’re brothers.”
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