I was shocked while watching the Oscar’s last night and seeing Will Smith slap Chris Rock. I immediately rewound it three or four times. “What happened?” “Is that real?” “Was it staged?”
I rewatched and Smith looked to initially laugh at a joke that Rock had made at the expense of Smith’s wife. Jada Pinkett Smith has alopecia which causes hair loss and has chosen to wear her hair short. Rock used that as an opportunity to make a joke about Smith starring in the upcoming G.I. Jane 2.
Then he walked up and slapped Rock. After Smith returns to his seat, there’s a brief exchange between the two men. You can see a lot of anger in Smiths’ face.
Will Smith is one of those rare public figures who is almost universally liked. And there has been no shortage of opinions on the slap.
A few minutes later, he won his first ever Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in King Richard where he gave a rambling acceptance speech.
Will Smith: Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family. In this time in my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world. Making this film, I got to protect Aunjanue Ellis, who is one of the most strongest, most delicate people I’ve ever met. I got to protect Saniyya [Sidney] and Demi [Singleton], the two actresses that play Venus and Serena. I’m being called on in my life to love people. And to protect people and to be a river to my people.
Protecting them? I find that to be completely patronizing and self-indulgent. He’s setting himself up as the hero and protector of the women in his life.
“I know, to do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse. You gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you and you gotta smile and pretend like that’s OK.“
I want to focus on the line “you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you and you gotta smile and pretend like that’s OK.” In some ways, don’t we all have to do that? We don’t all have smooth sailing and easy relationships in our family, with our bosses, with our neighbors. Yeah, it’s more public for celebrities. But sometimes we do have to be the bigger person. Sometimes we do have to take some slings and arrows and move on. It’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate that not everyone is nice all the time. But that’s life.
“Denzel [Washington] said to me a few minutes ago, “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.” I want to be a vessel for love. I want to say thank you to Venus and Serena … and the entire Williams family for entrusting me with your story.
That’s what I want to do. I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy, I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment and I’m not crying for winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me; it’s about being able to shine a light on all the people … and the entire cast and crew of King Richard and Venus and Serena and the entire Williams family. Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams! But, love will make you do crazy things.“
Smith does apologize to the academy but it’s pretty vague and he doesn’t specify what he’s apologizing for. Was it wrong? He had just self-aggrandized himself as this great protector of all of the women in his life. And he then gives a dismissive comment of “love will make you do crazy things.” I will cut Smith some slack that this whole confrontation had just happened a few moments before and he didn’t really have time to compose himself. But he talks vaguely about love, being a vessel of love, shining light on all people right after he struck another man.
And that’s where the problem is.
There are various responses I’ve heard. I disagree with any response that justifies Smith for striking Chris Rock. The was not called for. There are constructive ways to handle that comment which do not involve physical altercation. I’ve heard it argued that Smith was just standing up for his wife. I believe a strong woman doesn’t need a man to resort to violence for her. I’ve heard people argue that they would have done the same thing if someone insulted their wife. You can do that, but you might also get an assault charge to be the tough guy.
Will Smith is not a hero.
I’ve always liked Will Smith. And I will watch his movies again. But his response was not the right response.
Photo credit information: Photo from Wikimeida Commons.
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