I think we can all agree that last night was a lot. The Oscars usually call for a viewing party with friends, a bingo game with squares labeled “thanks God at least once” and “gets played off the stage”, and maybe a gossip circle about the best and worst red carpet looks. But no one — and I mean no one — could have prepared for Will Smith marching on-stage to confront and slap Chris Rock on national television.
If you’re like the many people who are exhausted by annual Oscar coverage, let’s get you up-to-date on the memes and articles you’re about to encounter for the next 48 hours (at the very least). While presenting the award for Best Documentary, Rock went straight into poking fun at the Smith family by addressing Jada Pinkett-Smith’s shaved head. Rock joked, “Jada I love you, G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it.” For those thinking that it’s harmless commentary on Pinkett-Smith’s personal style, take a few seats and let’s get the facts straight.
In 2018, Jada Pinkett-Smith revealed that she had been diagnosed with alopecia — an autoimmune disease with no known cure. In an episode of her talk show, Red Table Talk, she recalled the moment she first noticed she was losing clumps of hair in the shower, saying, “It was one of those times in my life where I was literally shaking with fear, that’s why I cut my hair and continued to cut it.”
Since her public announcement about her condition, she has been opting for shorter, cropped styles and has been seen on the red carpet with turbans and hair wraps. Last July, Pinkett-Smith decided to shave off all of her hair and credited her daughter Willow Smith as the one who pushed for her to let go.
The almost embarrassingly obvious reason Rock’s joke is particularly hurtful stands in his hypocrisy. In 2009, Rock produced, starred, and narrated the HBO documentary Good Hair. The documentary focused on the importance of hair in Black culture, the history of Black hairstyling, and the relationship Black women have with their hair. The larger point of the documentary was to bring attention to the discrimination Black women face in America based on their hairstyles.
So for Rock to deeply embed himself in a project that highlighted the struggles Black women face based on their hair, only to turn his back on a Black woman by making fun of her hair places him directly in the wrong. His advocacy for Black women’s hair has been tarnished by his lack of self-control and willful participation in the scrutiny he spoke about in his documentary.
Now, does that mean violence is the answer to public humiliation? Well, in this case, yeah, kind of. This doesn’t mean we can go around slapping the living daylights out of people for speaking sideways, that’s not where this is going. It is important to remember that context and nuance are two important resources (especially in highly publicized situations like this).
Many people, attendees and at-home audiences alike, initially thought this was a comedy/drama bit as a means to keep people engaged. However, what sealed the certification of authenticity was Smith’s impassioned remarks after marching on-stage and slapping Rock across the face. “Keep my wife’s name out of your f*cking mouth!” boomed from Smith’s mouth twice as he sat back down next to his wife.
Now, I don’t know about you, but the last time I heard Smith’s voice get that serious, loud, and low was when he delivered that extremely emotional and personal monologue on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Remember, that monologue wasn’t just for his sitcom character. That monologue came from the painful experience that Smith himself endured. It’s safe to say, if Will Smith is raising his voice, he’s speaking from a deep place in his heart. As Smith soon after said in his tearful Best Actor acceptance speech/post-slap apology speech, “Love will make you do crazy things”.
Of course the argument could be made that this could have been handled differently, arguably very differently. But Will Smith was still fully within his rights as a husband to handle a personal issue the way he saw fit. He just so happened to handle it right then and there.
If you have the audacity to publicly humiliate someone (or say, I don’t know, publicly degrade their incurable condition in front of their professional peers on live television), you better be ready to catch the hands that come afterwards. In a past comedy special, there was a bit where Rock had jokingly attempted to argue the legitimacy of domestic abuse, saying, “Ain’t nobody above an ass-whoopin’.” — and it’s scary how well that isolated line aged and boomeranged its way back to him.
TikTok creator and InStyle host Tefi (@hellotefi) was an attendee at the awards ceremony and had given her followers a live update on the situation saying, “This girl just passed by me — and she was talking to her friend — and she said, ‘…and let that be the last time someone ridicules Black women on the stage.’ and I gotta tell you, I feel the same f*cking way. Let that be the last f*cking time.”
I can’t think of a better way to end this. Let’s say it all together for posterity, “Let that be the last time someone ridicules a Black woman on stage.”