It’s known as “the slap heard around the world.” On March 27, 2022, during the 94th annual Academy Awards ceremony, actor Will Smith, 53, made headlines but for all the wrong reasons. Forty-plus minutes before Smith would go on to win his first Oscar for Best Actor for his leading role in King Richard, he stormed the stage and slapped comedian Chris Rock, 57, across the face after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, actress Jada Pinkett-Smith, 50. Before presenting the Oscar for Best Documentary, Rock joked about Pinkett-Smith’s bald head saying “Jada, GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see it,” referring to the film GI Jane starring Demi Moore who donned a short haircut, similar to the one Pinkett-Smith has had as of late.
Smith was seen on camera seemingly laughing at the joke while Pinkett-Smith was caught rolling her eyes, visibly annoyed by the comedian and the joke she deemed unfunny. As Rock continued with his presentation, Smith was seen walking toward him. As Rock began to laugh, assumably thinking Smith was approaching him for friendly banter, he was struck across the face. Smith, upon returning to his seat was heard shouting expletives at Rock saying, “keep my wife’s name out your f****in mouth.” What was thought as a comedy bit between the two men was proven to be a reality. Rock, to his credit, continued presenting the award and moving the show forward but the awkwardness of the moment was there to stay for the remainder of the night for both the viewers and the live audience of actors, producers, directors, and nominees whose categories had not yet been presented.
What ensued after, was public shock and outrage. Did that really just happen? This is the question most people asked themselves. Smith apologized to Rock via Instagram citing Pinkett-Smith’s alopecia condition as the reason for his reaction. He also decided to resign from the Academy after they announced the launch of their own review to determine what consequences he should face as a result of his behavior. On Friday, April 8, 2022, the Academy Board of Governors released their official statement banning the I am Legend actor from attending the Academy Awards and all future Academy events for the next 10 years. Specifically, the statement reads, “The Board has decided, for a period of 10 years from April 8, 2022, Mr. Smith shall not be permitted to attend any Academy events or programs, in person or virtually, including but not limited to the Academy Awards.” In his response, Smith accepted his fate saying, “I accept and respect the Academy’s decision.”
At the time of this writing, Rock has not made an official statement addressing the matter but was seen on video during the kickoff of his Ego Death tour saying in part, about the incident, “I’m still kind of processing what happened. So, at some point, I’ll talk about that s***. And it will be serious and funny.”
Abron’s Hot Take
Now, I wasn’t going to address this issue simply because it’s been discussed ad nauseum at this point. I sort of shared the same sentiment as Daniel Radcliffe in that I became bored with the story and the many opinions from spectators; however, I knew more information would be coming down the pipeline which is what I was moreso interested in. As it pertains to the punishment itself, I lean more on the side that it was fair. Firstly, regardless of what side you stand on regarding Will Smith’s actions (yes, there are people out there who feel that Smith was justified in attacking Rock), you know that with every action there is an equal or opposite reaction. Smith was going to face consequences no matter what. That’s just the nature of how the world works.
Now, I never thought that Smith would have his Oscar taken away (this was a possible consequence discussed in the media), but I did think the Academy would reprimand him, even though I wasn’t quite sure what that would look like. Seeing as though Smith resigned from the Academy on his own volition, there really wasn’t much that could have been done on the Academy’s end. We can speculate that maybe he would have received a shorter ban period but there’s no way to know that for sure. No matter how you slice it, Smith committed an offense that most people would have been arrested for and he did it on live television in front of the whole world. Not to mention, his doubling down and justification of his actions during his acceptance speech, partying after the ceremony as if nothing happened, and his delayed apology to the victim in all of this, Chris Rock, could also be seen as aggravating factors that led to the Academy needing to make an example out of him.
If you’re familiar with Smith, then you would know that he’s actually already suffering the biggest punishment which is falling out of favor with the public. For thirty-plus years, the carefully curated image of Will Smith has been that of the “good guy.” He’s always been known as one of the nicest people in Hollywood but now, this one night has changed that forever. Will it impact his career forever? Most likely not because America loves a comeback story so there is still room for him to redeem himself. However, as of right now, Smith has fallen out of favor with some of his fans, peers, and Hollywood in general. His Oscar win will forever be remembered for the actions that led before him winning and that image he’s worked so hard to craft now has a stain on it that will be etched in pop-culture history in perpetuity. He will indeed feel the heat and things will get worse before they get better as that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. What Smith must now ask himself is, was it worth it? Were those 2.5 seconds of impetuousness worth the trouble that he’s gotten himself into? Would he have fared better had he pulled Chris Rock to the side after the ceremony and addressed his issues with the joke or better yet, used his acceptance speech as a moment to address Jada’s condition with alopecia – explaining then why the joke was not to be laughed at? Hindsight is 20/20. So, although he may have slapped Chris physically, it is Will who has now been slapped back professionally. Again, was it worth it?
At the end of the day, one man was publicly humiliated for the world to see and the other, is now facing a public backlash that was unnecessary from the get-go. But the Academy did what was necessary considering the circumstances and Will must face the music. We all have to at some point.
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