It has been called ‘The slap heard around the world’.
Indeed, it was viewed 80 million times on the Internet during the first three days after the event. In case you have been living under a rock, and are unaware of the debacle, this is what transpired.
During the 2022 Oscars, actor and comedian Chris Rock took to the stage to present the award for Best Documentary Feature. At first, he ribs Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz, who are married to each other and were both nominated in the lead-acting categories.
Rock jokes that the couple have the hardest job that night because “if she loses, he can’t win,” and that he (Bardem) “is praying that Will Smith wins”. The couple laughs, and so does Will Smith.
Rock then addresses Jada Pinkett Smith, who is seated next to her husband, and says, “Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it.” ( G.I. Jane is a 1997 film starring Demi Moore, who shaved her head to portray a fictional Navy SEAL candidate.)
Smith laughed at the joke. His wife did not. Smith subsequently did a 180, stormed on to the stage and slapped Chris Rock across his face, before returning to his seat. As a stunned Rock tried to regain his composure, and commented on the attack, Smith angrily shouted at Rock, from his front-row seat, “Keep my wife’s name out your f**king mouth.” Twice.
Later, Smith won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of Richard Williams, father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, in the film King Richard.
During his tearful, five-minute acceptance speech, one of the longest in the history of the awards, Smith apologised to the Academy and his fellow nominees for his earlier actions, but did not apologise to Rock. Smith and his family were later seen at an after-party celebrating his win, him with his statuette in hand, dancing and laughing.
Will Smith’s behaviour on the night of the Oscars was appalling and inexcusable. What is also appalling are comments being made in support of his actions. The narrative about him “protecting his woman” should be swiftly dismissed.
Yes, Jada Pinkett Smith has been troubled with alopecia (hair loss) since 2018 and has spoken openly about her struggle. Eventually, she decided to shave her head. However, her comments in recent times have suggested that she has come to terms with it.
Late last year, in the season opener of Jada’s talk show ‘Red Table Talk’, comedian Tiffany Haddish, who was a guest, asked Jada, “What did Will say when you cut your hair? How did he respond?” Jada replied, “He loves it.” In a 48-second video clip she posted on Instagram to promote the episode, she declared, “We are back! We are bold! And a few of us are bald!”
More recently, in a TikTok video posted by Jada a few days before the Oscars, she spoke of being a black woman in Hollywood and the challenges she encountered regarding how the entertainment industry wants women of colour to wear their hair.
At the end of the video she proudly declared, “I don’t give two craps what people feel about this bald head of mine. Cuz guess what? I love it.” The video was accompanied by #iamnotmyhair, and the phrase “be proud of your crown”.
So, were Rock’s comments that egregious? Will Smith himself has been taken to task for mocking someone’s bald head. In 1991 on the Arsenio Hall Show, Smith poked fun at the bass player in the house band.
He commented: “He got to wax his head every morning.” A member of the audience responded, calling Will “rude,” to which the actor responds, “These are jokes, come on.”
So, what exactly was Will defending Jada from? The couple is very popular, and they both have huge platforms on which they could take to and call out Chris Rock if they deemed his comments inappropriate.
If Will is such a great defender of his wife, where was he when she was ridiculed in social media after she admitted to having a sexual relationship with one of her son’s friends?
Why did he not take to the internet and stridently shut her critics down?
The fact is that what we saw was not a strong man defending his woman, but rather an exhibition of weakness. Becoming unhinged and having a meltdown is not something to be applauded.
Violence is not the answer. The fact that Smith was allowed to remain in the audience, and that during his acceptance speech he had an opportunity to apologise to Rock, but did not, sends a horrible message, especially to our children, that violence is acceptable.
But it is not. Except in cases of self-defence, physical violence is not okay. Let this be a teachable moment for our youth. They must know that even though this was played out on a huge global platform, with no obvious consequences for the aggressor, it was wrong.
And if you think Will Smith’s actions are appropriate, I humbly urge you to rethink your position. Having a mindset that is tolerant of violence only serves to facilitate more violence. We do not need that.
By Michael Abrahams
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