There’s a lot to say about this year’s Academy Awards, colloquially known as ‘the Oscars’. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but actor Will Smith’s public slapping of Emcee Chris Rock – a brazen criminal act of assault and battery – has had more people chattering about this annual event, which has vastly declined in popularity, leading many to believe that the “slap heard ‘round the world” was staged.
I doubt it was an act. If it were, then anyone involved should be banned from the Motion Picture Academy, permanently.
For those who don’t know the details, here’s what happened: Rock, who’s one of the funniest comedians out there, did what Oscars Emcees often do: he roasted his fellow entertainers. He implied that Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, would star in the film G.I. Jane 2.
There is no G.I. Jane 2. The 1997 original starred Demi Moore as a woman who joined the military; Moore shaved her head for the role. The comparison – for those who got it – is because Smith shaved her own head in response to a condition known as alopecia, which involves sudden and substantial loss of hair in clumps. It’s not a life-threatening or otherwise hazardous condition, but aesthetically and cosmetically, it’s obviously distressing.
As of this writing, it’s unconfirmed whether Rock knew of Smith’s condition when he made the joke. Some insist he did, because she made it public. I, for one, didn’t know. Until Oscars night, I had never even heard of her, let alone her affliction.
Will Smith initially laughed at the joke, while his wife rolled her eyes. Smith then turned to her, saw the livid expression on her face, and changed his tune: he walked up to the stage as Rock laughed, but then unleashed a vicious slap on the much smaller Rock, causing him to thrust leftward, in shock. Will then walked back to his seat, and the stymied audience wasn’t sure if the whole thing was a gag.
“Wow…wow!” exclaimed the stunned Rock, who then said rather sardonically: “Will Smith just smacked the s**t out of me.” The audience laughed loudly, probably still thinking the whole thing was staged, until Smith, who had returned to his seat, spewed: “Keep my wife’s name out your f****n mouth!” A hush fell over the crowd as Rock replied: “Wow, dude!”
“Yes,” a visibly angry Smith accentuated. “It was a G.I. Jane joke,” Rock said, as Smith repeated, slower and louder: “Keep my wife’s name out your…f****n…mouth!!” his bark rising to a chilling crescendo. The subsequent silence was deafening. You could hear a pin drop. Rock simply said “I’m going to, ok?” and then acknowledged that “this was the…greatest night in television history.”
A few minutes later, Smith won the Oscar for Best Actor; the plot couldn’t have been more bizarre if it were written by Rod Serling or Alfred Hitchcock.
In his acceptance speech, a tearful Smith apologized for his behavior, purporting that love made him do it. He didn’t apologize to Rock that night, but did so in a statement a couple of days later.
Here are some takeaways:
1. I rarely watch the Oscars. I don’t think films are what they used to be. I have thousands of TV channels at my disposal, featuring movies and TV shows I’ve never even seen, which can last me years. There’s no reason to go to the movies and pay a fortune for crappy, fattening junk snacks when I can watch whatever I want in the comfort of my own home with eminently superior food and libations. I’m also sickened by the intense politicization of it all. As I’ve written on innumerable occasions, those in the business of entertaining – whether actors, athletes, or musicians – have oodles of fans of all political stripes and should not alienate the half who find their statements abrasive and condescending. Others yet won’t watch because they don’t want to witness a bunch of absurdly overpaid narcissistic bubble-dwellers revel in their own self-importance.
2. Will Smith is a bully. He’s a lot bigger and stronger than Rock. No offense to Rock, or to women and children, but it’s like hitting a woman or a child. It was an ugly act of physical and verbal brutality. I bet if Shaquille O’Neal was hosting the Oscars and made that joke, Big Bad Will wouldn’t have dared slap him!
3. There’s a phenomenon in America called Black Fear. Historically, whites have been afraid of blacks. Of course, it’s not fair to blacks that whites won’t cower as much when a white guy yells and screams as when a black guy does it, but it’s reality, and Will’s verbal browbeating did a disservice to African-Americans on so many levels. Worst of all, Smith perpetuated the stereotype that blacks are violent thugs. Whites who already harbor those thoughts will reinforce them by remembering that the one actor who committed assault and battery at the Oscars was black.
In fact, if I were black, I’d really be furious, just as I was as a Trump supporter when a bunch of unhinged savages stormed the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021, whose poster boy calls himself the QAnon Shaman, clad in a painted face, bison horns, and coyote skins.
For years I’ve tried to convince doubters that most Trump supporters are like me: polite, courteous, honest, nonviolent, openminded, and intellectually curious. The Shaman and his posse undid all of that in one winter morning.
Similarly, the exemplary blacks in America – from Thurgood Marshall, to Clarence Thomas, to Colin Powell, to Condoleezza Rice, to the Obamas – were symbolically spat upon by the Neanderthal actions of Will Smith, AKA the Oscars’ QAnon Shaman.