On March 27, the 94th Annual Academy Awards took off, giving awards to the best of the best in the film industry, with much-deserved recognition for all the hard work put in on and off the big screen. The 2022 Oscars are destined to go down in history for a multitude of reasons. The first is “West Side Story” (2021) actress Ariana DeBose becoming the first openly queer woman of color to win an Oscar — and the second is Chris Rock and Will Smith.
So, What Happened?
Not long into the ceremony, actor and comedian Chris Rock took the stage to perform a standup routine. During his segment, he took a jab at Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock teasingly said, “Jada, I love you — I can’t wait for GI Jane 2,” prompting the actress to roll her eyes.
This moment, which was intended all in good fun, was the last straw for actor Will Smith. As Smith charged the stage following the joke, he proceeded to strike Rock across the face. Following the physical altercation, Smith continued to angrily yell profanities at the comedian even after he had returned to his assigned seat.
After the slap aired, viewers immediately took to every social media platform readily available to formulate explanations about the viral moment that collectively left the world with dropped jaws.
What Are the Bigger Implications?
Many debates regarding the incident fail to address the greater impact of Rock’s hurtful words and Smith’s distasteful actions. As we take a closer look at the joke that led to tensions boiling over, we must examine why it was hurtful in the first place. Jada Pinkett Smith has openly discussed dealing with alopecia reata, which is a disease that can cause permanent or temporary hair loss on one’s scalp or even the entire body. This can be due to major hormonal changes, stress or aging.
Though intended to be harmless, a joke of this nature can cause a lot of pain — not only for Ms. Smith, who is suffering from a disorder that she has no control over, but for Black women all over the world who have constantly faced teasing for their hair. Whether it is someone telling Black women that their hair is unprofessional, ugly or doesn’t align with the trends of the time, jokes like these unearth all that deeply rooted pain.
All this deep-rooted pain and stigma appears to be the catalyst for Smith’s unexpected outburst in defense of his wife and the mother of his children. This moment inspired many memes but it also angered a large percentage of viewers as well. Most of the discord was due to the fact that children watch the program and that it drew attention away from other award winners. Countless viewers agreed that the Academy Awards is not the place for physical altercations.
While all these reasons for the anger are valid, the wide scope of the pressures Black men in Hollywood face commonly go unaddressed and there is an unspoken idea that Black men shouldn’t express emotions. For example, Kanye West is very open on social media about his feelings regarding his crumbling relationship with Kim Kardashian. Most of the comments say that he shouldn’t turn to social media to discuss his marital issues; however, if you have nowhere else to turn, what are you supposed to do? Where are you supposed to go to release your anguish?
All these feelings being bottled up lead to an inevitable overflow of emotion — which results in altercations like the one that occurred on March 27.
On March 28, Smith took to his Instagram account to issue a public apology. With remorse, he wrote, “Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally. I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”
He continued, “I would also like to apologize to the Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world. I would like to apologize to the Williams Family and my King Richard Family. I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us. I am a work in progress.”
The Academy was set to meet on April 18 to decide whether they would like to take disciplinary action against Smith, but due to public outcry, the hearing was moved up to Friday, April 8. The Academy decided to ban him from the ceremony for 10 years.
We Are All a Work in Progress
In no way should violence ever be defended, under any circumstance. However, it is for the greater good that we learn what attributes are its catalysts, so situations like this can be de-escalated before they reach a boiling point. It’s fair to say that there was fault on both sides of the situation, and it should’ve never become physical.
For the first time in a really long time, the audience saw raw emotion in Hollywood and was reminded that celebrities are people, too. They make mistakes, just like us.