Ashley Seldon ’24
Most people did not know the Oscars were happening until Will Smith was trending on Twitter for smacking Chris Rock onstage at the awards event. Rock, one of the co-hosts for the Oscars, made a joke on stage during his set calling Jada Pinkett Smith “G.I. Jane.” His joke was problematic because Pinkett Smith recently revealed on her talk show that she has been battling alopecia and struggling to find confidence with the recent loss of her hair. Pinkett Smith had said, “I was in the shower one day and had just handfuls of hair in my hands, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, am I going bald?’” Rock’s joke was insensitive as it pokes fun at Pinkett Smith’s autoimmune disease, and Chris Rock should have known better. Still, no one was expecting Will Smith’s immediate reaction to the joke after seeing how annoyed his wife was with Rock. He climbed onto the stage, walked over to Chris Rock, slapped him across his face, and yelled, “Keep my wife’s name out your f—-ing mouth!” The surrounding celebrities were shocked at the outburst, and what was even more surprising was that Smith was able to remain in the audience and accept an Oscar 20 minutes later. One tweet (via @nhannahjones) said, “I’m tripping that you can assault someone on live television on stage at the Oscars and just take your seat and watch the rest of the show.” While some praise Smith for defending his wife against a cruel joke, the entire situation seems like a mistake that will now forever cast a negative light on Smith’s career.
The awards night should have been a beautiful moment for the Smith family to celebrate as Will won the highest achievement an actor can receive—an Oscar. Smith won the award for best actor for King Richard as well as for best picture. Sadly, one of the biggest nights of his life will now forever be plagued by him slapping Chris Rock and yelling obscenities at him. Nobody wants to be remembered for their worst action or mistake; however, celebrities do not get that same liberty. Everyone spent the days following the Oscars poking fun at the Smiths’ already fragile marriage. Back in July 2020, Pinkett Smith brought herself to the Red Table, her popular talk show on Facebook Watch which features Pinkett Smith, her mother, and her daughter discussing a myriad of topics, to address the rumors that she was having an affair or open relationship with rapper August Alsina. She admitted to being in an “entanglement” with Alsina while she and Smith were going through a rough patch in their marriage. She brought her husband on the show to tell him that she wanted to feel good, and Smith noticeably looked distraught. This sent a surge of memes and jokes Smith’s way, joking that his wife had publicly embarrassed him and was sleeping with a man close to their children’s age. In June 2021, she posted a never-before-seen poem of Shakur that he had written while in jail. Despite Shakur and Pinkett Smith saying they were purely platonic, many close photos of them and poems he had written for her have resurfaced since his untimely death showing the intimate nature of their friendship. In Smith’s memoir, he admitted that he was “tortured” by the connection they shared, saying that Shakur made Smith feel less secure. In the memoir, Smith says, “[He] triggered the perception of myself as a coward…I hated that I wasn’t what he was in the world, and I suffered a raging jealousy: I wanted Jada to look at me like that.” Perhaps Smith’s outburst at the Oscars can be attributed to him trying to exemplify a strong man for Pinkett Smith and defend her as he believed Shakur would have.
Smith’s attack on Rock at the Oscars may affect the future of Black celebrities being invited to the elite event. It has already become an issue in the past that the Oscars rarely invite, nominate, or award Black actors and actresses. It was clear that this year had been the “Blackest” the Oscars have been in a while; the representation was clear. Moments like Will Smith’s play into the “angry Black man” stereotype and are taken harshly by already prejudiced white committees. His assault could hurt the number of Black attendees and nominations at next year’s Oscars. Smith resigned from the Academy on April 1, before the Academy had initiated their disciplinary hearings. With this, Smith will no longer be recognized for his work in upcoming films.