The slap heard round the world


Courtesy of theglobalpanorama on Creative Commons

Chris Rock said the 2022 Oscars ceremony was “the greatest night in the history of television” immediately after being slapped by Will Smith.

“It was a G.I. Jane joke.” These were the words comedian and host Chris Rock said to actor and Academy Award nominee Will Smith after Smith walked on stage at the 2022 Oscar Awards and slapped him clean in the face. This was immediately following Rock making a joke about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett-Smith’s hair (or lack thereof,) referencing the 1997 film “G.I. Jane” starring Demi Moore playing the titular character who shaved her head.
The incident has caused widespread discussion across social media, with many arguments being made on behalf of both Rock and Smith. Smith has since issued an apology to both Rock and the Academy, and Rock declined to press charges.
While most people agree that Smith was out of line, I believe that the full scope of the situation is being lost in the vitriol thrown at Smith. Jada Pinkett-Smith has opened up in recent years about her struggles with alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair to fall out, hence her lack of hair at the Oscars. When Rock made the joke, it was clear from her facial expression that she was not amused, yet Smith was clearly laughing. In a moment not caught on camera, it is assumed that Smith saw his wife was upset, and thus climbed the stage to slap Rock.
While I certainly do not condone violence, I also do not condone making fun of a person’s medical condition, and I would be especially upset if that person was my significant other. The joke was in extremely poor taste, and Chris Rock, who I am sure knew about Pinkett-Smith’s condition, should have known better. I am pro-comedy until the point where it singles someone out and/or needlessly hurts someone, and Rock’s joke about Pinkett-Smith did both.
Having said all of that, “the slap” has been blown way out of proportion. I have seen people on Twitter saying things like “I lost all respect for Will Smith,” and “Will Smith should be banned from attending the Oscars ever again.” The most absurd claim I have heard is that Will Smith slapping Chris Rock was “the ugliest moment in Oscars history.” For those of you who think that, do yourself a favor and Google the name Sacheen Littlefeather, and you will find out all about how ugly the Oscars can get. For those that do not know, in 1973, President of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee Sacheen Littlefeather accepted the Academy Award for Best Actor on behalf of Marlon Brando, who was boycotting the Oscars in protest of the portrayal of Native Americans in films and the Wounded Knee incident. When Littlefeather spoke of how Native Americans were being mistreated, she was met with boos from the crowd, and several high-profile actors including Clint Eastwood and Racquel Welch made light of her and her speech. Most notable, John Wayne had to be restrained by six security guards to keep him from assaulting her. After reading this, if you still think a comedian getting slapped for mocking someone’s physical appearance is the ugliest moment in Oscars history, you might have to have a conversation with yourself on why.