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  • Writer's pictureJessica Taylor Yates

Did Chris Rock deserve it?

Will Smith punched Chris Rock before winning Best Actor at the Oscars. Was it justified?

Look up ‘Will Smith‘ right now, and he will be trending for all the wrong reasons.

Will Smith punches Chris Rock.

Will Smith screams at Chris Rock.

Will Smith storms the stage at the Oscars.

Jokes, memes, comments and replays for a career spanning almost 40 years in music, tv and movies. A body of work that was meant to be encapsulated tonight, as he was a sure thing for the Best Actor category at the Academy Awards - which he went on to win.

But it was soured.

As has become an instantaneous ‘punchline,’ Chris Rock came out to present an award for Best Documentary. A comedian, he opened with the line, “Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it, all right?”

For context – Demi Moore famously shaved her head to play G.I Jane in 1997. Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith’s wife, has recently been rocking a shaved head, which some may know is due to her alopecia.

Whether you think it was a low blow or just a joke (I lay in the latter category, personally), Will Smith’s reaction was straight-up insane.

He jumped up, marched on the stage, and in front of millions of viewers watching live, seemed to either slap or punch Chris Rock in the face. Watching live personally, it was still a bit confusing – was this a pre-rehearsed ‘bit’ between the two? No one really got it until Will sat down, still visibly enraged, and Chris Rock said, “Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me!” Will then screamed out with rage, “Keep my wife’s name out of your FUCKING mouth!” Twice, for emphasis.

The room fell silent. You could hear a pin drop. Watching, I was aghast. My heart was beating so fast I felt I was in the room. It was just so shockingly awful. Physically and emotionally shaken, Chris continued to try and finish presenting.

And in a moment, Will Smith, who was meant to be celebrating a night for his first Oscar and only the fifth Black man to ever win in the category, ruined everything.

He tarnished a brilliant event that 2,700 people worked tirelessly on – after two years of a pandemic, where the telecast was completely revised to be shorter, sharper, fresher, and an overall enjoyable view. in this outburst, he took away moments that were fun, marvellous, and important to the industry.

Like an amazing intro from Beyonce; a song celebrating Black females in sport.

Or brilliant musical acts throughout, such as the Latina cast of Encanto, and young singer Billie Eilish getting her first Oscar.

A lot of first wins in important categories:

CODA, a movie with sign language that gave the first-ever Best Supporting Actor win to a deaf man.

Jane Campion, the third ever female director to win, and first from New Zealand.

Ariana DeBose, the first gay Latina woman to win an Oscar.

The appearance of Hollywood stars celebrating legacies, from Liza Minelli to Francis Ford Coppola, Pulp Fiction to Betty White and 60 years of Bond.

A Black male awards handler, a stunningly beautiful new set and seating, the first time three female comedians hosted (brilliantly, may I add – they were funny as fuck) – but all anyone will talk about is, ‘Will Smith punched Chris Rock.’ Like, seriously? Making the night just about yourself cos you're a little boy who couldn't handle his male ego? Fuck you! this real life??

It was assault, physically and verbally. He should have been escorted out of the building and made to apologise to Chris Rock on the spot. Like…imagine that happening in your office. I honestly felt so bad for Chris in that moment. He, too, is a Black man of humble beginnings who must have been looking forward to attending the Oscars and presenting that evening.

it's not the first time Chris Rock has made a joke about the Smiths, although he's hardly the first to do so. For those who found the joke offensive – that’s fair. Or perhaps you think it was ‘punching down’ on a woman with a condition that makes her lose her hair and she has been open about this. That’s fair too.

What’s not fair is how it was handled.

You are a grown man, a very powerful one at that, one of the highest-paid and most respected men in Hollywood. If you find the joke disrespectful, there were a myriad of ways to handle it as an adult.

You can sit, stony-faced. You can choose not to clap. You can have a word with Chris afterward, or even tell the media you found it a low blow if you want to ‘cancel’ him. But you CANNOT yell profanities and hit someone.

Me personally, I would take a fucking joke. There were many that night, may I add - Nicole Kidman got a ribbing about Being The Ricardos being unfunny, Lage GaGa got one about bad accents in House of Gucci, Matt Damon got it for no one watching The Last Duel - all of these actors could laugh at themselves because, at the end of the day, they are extraordinarily highly paid people who live a life of luxury many of us could only dream of. Teasing them is not punching down.

Personally, if I was Jada, I’d scream, ‘Yeah baby!’ and own it – YGG with your shaved head, you get that G.I Jane role! Yass Queen! It could have gone so differently if she cheered and perhaps the audience did for her, like yeah, the hair is awesome, love that you rock your unique self! Love you Jada!

Instead, Will’s inflated sense of self-importance, ego, toxic masculinity, male bravado and foolishness had him storm the stage in some sort of embarrassing dick-measuring comp that just made him look like a man in rage who takes himself far too seriously. Not to mention – Jada seems like a strong woman – she doesn’t need your husbandly ‘protection‘ because you were ‘provoked’ which led to a fit of rage. How sexist can you get?

The mood was completely soured, for viewers and I'm sure, for everyone in the room. It must have been so icy that Amy Schumer when hosting even joked, "It feels different in here." Thank god for Amy, Regina and Wanda to lift the mood Will tarnished.

Later in the evening, when he inevitably won for Best Actor, his speech floundered from, to be frank, somewhat insane (being called from God to protect the women he worked with - what?) to somehow painting himself as the victim in the situation, to apologising to the Academy and fellow nominees – although he stopped short of apologising to Chris Rock directly.

To me, the most upsetting part was that everyone should be talking about his achievement for a role that, previous to this moment, felt so deserved. Like, who doesn’t love a Will Smith show or movie? He was brilliant in King Richard, and until the assault, I felt, truly deserved it. It was his night, everyone knew it - but now, for all the wrong reasons. His big win became a total subplot, and all because of one stupid, reckless, totally self-inflicted decision.

This all said – I do not believe in cancelling people for moral ambiguity or a lapse in judgment (without legal ramifications). We are all human - we rise, fall, and we are redeemable – the very centre of most Hollywood films (see, The Shawshank Redemption...) As Smith mentioned in his Oscars award speech moments later, advice he got from former Oscar winner Denzel Washington is that at your highest moment is ‘when the devil comes.’ We all have moments we are not proud of – when we said something we shouldn’t have, reacted poorly, or let our emotions get the better of us. Okay. For Smith, he has had a hard time in the press when it comes to his marriage. He had a major emotional lapse in judgment when he felt his wife was being insulted, and acted poorly. It doesn’t mean he hasn’t been a good, decent, hardworking actor, singer, husband and father until this moment in time.

But it does mean that actions have consequences.

It does mean that it was a physical and verbal assault.

And it does mean that he owes Chris Rock a fucking apology, not just the Academy and fellow nominees so that he gets hired in Hollywood again. He owes it to his fans and to Chris directly. He doesn’t have to like the joke. He doesn’t have to like him (in fact, Everybody Hates Chris...) But screaming profanities and punching someone was classless as fuck, and Will Smith is suavier, cooler, smarter and better than that.

He owes it to everyone who was there, all the fans who were watching, all the people who worked tirelessly to put the awards on, all the people who should have had their moment that he has now stolen, and he owes it to Chris Rock.

Get the fuck over yourself.


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