It was this time last year when viewing audiences witnessed “the slap,” both heard and seen around the world. During the 2022 94th annual Academy Awards ceremony, Will Smith, 54, prior to winning his first Oscar for Best Actor, approached fellow actor and comedian, Chris Rock, 58, while Rock was in the middle of presenting an award and slapped him across the face. Following the assault, Smith was heard screaming expletives at the actor/comedian, telling him to "keep my wife's name out your f***king mouth."
Shocked, many wondered if the incident was real or part of a bit. Before presenting the nominees in the category for Best Documentary, Rock, like many comedians told a few jokes at the expense of a live audience of celebrities. One joke, in particular, was aimed at Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, 51. Sporting a noticeably shorter-than-usual haircut, Chris suggested that Jada should star in G.I. Jane 2 as a sequel to the original film starring Demi Moore, in which the actress famously shaved her head for the role. While Will initially laughed at the joke, the cameras caught a noticeably annoyed Jada who didn't seem to find the suggestion funny. And what happened next is what we've come to now know as the "Oscar Slap."
For his part, Smith offered several explanations for his behavior, none of which directly addressed the root cause or trigger for him to physically assault Rock. Many surmised that his reaction was due to seeing how upset his wife was at the joke and that he was "protecting a black woman," or "protecting his wife," as a husband should. Pinkett-Smith has opened up about her struggles with alopecia which is a disorder that causes one to lose their hair, thus explaining why she didn't like Chris' joke, as the subject matter for her is sensitive.
To this day, almost one year later, we have still not been given a clear and concise reason from Smith on why he assaulted Chris that night. His efforts to do damage control nonetheless did not easily sway the court of public opinion as he has been banned from attending future Academy Award ceremonies for the next 10 years. In addition, his movie Emancipation failed to gain any traction, nor did it receive any major award recognition this year. The once pristine image of the big, box office Hollywood star now has a permanent stain on it.
Chris, seemingly disappeared for a bit after the incident before he started to slowly make his way back into the public with his Ego Death tour. The tickets, of course, sold out as many fans wanted to know if he would address the matter during one of his shows (he did not). Refusing to do any interviews, Rock instead focused on his comedy with many deeming that he would talk about the assault on his own time. Well, that time is now. With the release of his live new comedy special on Netflix (a first for the streaming service), called Selective Outrage, he finally discussed it using his unique brand of humor. In the show, after making jokes regarding rappers, Snoop Dogg and Jay Z, Rock said, "the last thing I need is another mad rapper," hinting at Smith who is also a rapper and was the first to ever win a grammy award in a rap category.
However, it was the last 8 minutes of the show that stood out. Chris dedicated the entire closing of his show to addressing the incident, expressing his true thoughts about both Will and Jada. Opening by saying, “y’all know what happened to me, getting smacked by Suge Smith,” (a reference to Suge Knight). What happened next was a deliberate takedown of Will Smith for the audience to follow in which Chris explains who he believes Will is, what has transpired in his life, and why it caused him to publicly assault him. First, he emphasized that Smith is “significantly bigger than me. We’re not the same size.” Next, he called out a recent issue plaguing the Smith household, which was the admitted affair that Jada had with her son’s friend, R&B singer, August Alsina, and the jokes that occurred at Will’s expense as the impetus for his fragile state of mind. Chris deduces that the ridicule Will endured from so many regarding the affair lead to the assault on him the night of the Oscars. He essentially claims that instead of Will addressing the many others who spoke against him, he instead picked a fight with a man much smaller than him – whom he could easily beat in a physical fight – “that’s some b**tch a** sh*t,” Rock said.
Rock also recalled an issue in 2016, as he was set to host that year’s Oscar ceremony as another possible reason for the breakdown in his relationship with the Smith's. Because Will did not receive a nomination for his role in Concussion, Jada called for all actors of color to boycott the ceremony that year as an act of solidarity and for Chris to step down as host. Again, as comedians normally do, he joked about the ordeal while hosting, saying that Jada’s boycott was, in hindsight, counterproductive as she wasn’t invited to begin with. In conclusion, Chris very strategically illustrated that Will Smith practices selective outrage. He ignored the many criticisms both he and his family have faced over the years due to their non-traditional approach to marriage, parenting, and the oversharing of their intimate family details but chose Chris - on that night - to finally say enough is enough, causing one of the most uncomfortable if not unfortunate moments in live tv to occur.
Dropping the mic both literally and figuratively, Chris left it all on the stage. He said everything one could say - expressing his raw emotions. You could see the anger on his face which to me, says that these two "smart and capable," men won't be coming together anytime soon to "heal," or "talk things out," much to Jada's hope. But one thing we know for sure is Chris is no one's victim. And while he was embarrassed and humiliated in front of millions, it is he, who has emerged victorious in the end. Will Smith may be able to move on from this at some point, but as of now, public favor resides with Chris Rock. He not only called Smith out, but highlighted his flaws and insecurities, and the overarching stigma plaguing men - black men in particular - which is toxic masculinity.
Selective Outrage is streaming now on Netflix.
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