Emily Jashinsky: Surely by now you’re aware that Will Smith spontaneously decided to slap Chris Rock on the face during Sunday’s Academy Awards broadcast. “Keep my wife’s name out your f-cking mouth,” Smith shouted after returning to his seat, upset by a joke Rock made about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair. (She has a condition called alopecia that results in hair loss. Rock joked about her being in “G.I. Jane 2”.)
Just moments later, before anyone could really digest the moment, Smith won Best Actor. He apologized tearfully to the Academy, saying he felt defensive of his family. “I’m overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do,” Smith explained.
Eddie, was this good for anyone? Was Smith’s defense of his wife masculine or petulant?
Eddie Scarry: It was a joke and a harmless one, no less. Jada and Will parade their weird lives online, in magazines and in newspapers for everyone to see. That anyone would make fun of her bald head—she says she has alopecia—comes with the territory. I want to know why the Oscars said nothing immediately about physical violence being intolerable.
EJ: Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., tweeted and deleted a defense of Smith’s smack on the basis of his wife’s alopecia. It’s pretty interesting that she deleted the post. Nikole Hannah-Jones, on the other hand, called it an “assault.”
The ethics of this are perfect for debate, which will give the moment a ton of life in the news cycle. Smith and Rock will do big sit-down interviews about it.
Is Rock going to have to grovel for making a joke about hair?
ES: Ugh, this is where I wonder if we’re feeding into a P.R. stunt. Maybe! And yet either way, when did physical violence become okay? If it had been Liam Hemsworth to jump on stage and do that, what would the headlines be like then? I have a guess: “This is how WHITE MEN behave!”
Will Smith has typically been a respectable, upstanding figure. What he did at the Oscars fulfilled a negative stereotype. Too bad the rest of the media won’t call him out on that.
EJ: I’ll just add, Smith’s tearful acceptance speech for Best Actor in the Leading Role—an award he totally deserved—was completely redeeming. He’s obviously going through some dark stuff in his personal life, but connecting his reaction to Richard Williams’ famously aggressive defense of his family was pretty poignant, as was his candid anecdote about Denzel Washington pulling him aside to warn the devil gets you at your highest moment.
Smith should have taken the joke like Rock took the punch. He didn’t, he addressed it, apologized to the Academy, and we learned he’s passionate about his family. It’ll be legendary and rightfully so.