Earlier in the Oscar evening, Regina Hall made a joke about how “Jada said it was okay” if Will Smith joined the other hot guys Regina wanted to “test for Covid” backstage, and I was thinking how strange it was that Will and Jada Pinkett Smith had gone through an entire awards season with people making jokes and asides about their open marriage and “entanglements” and such. I was actually thinking “well, Will and Jada are pretty open about it, maybe they don’t mind the jokes.” Turns out, they did mind some of the jokes. Just not about their marriage.
The joke from Chris Rock was always bad. He made a reference to Jada’s shaved head and said something about how she’s going to star in G.I. Jane 2. Jada has alopecia, a medical condition which involves hair loss, and the camera caught her rolling her eyes at Rock and looking visibly pissed off. A second later, Will walked on stage and smacked Rock with an open palm. Rock was shaken and no one in the audience knew if it was some kind of prearranged gag. That’s when the American broadcast’s audio was muted. What we missed was Rock saying to Will – who went back to his seat – “Will Smith just smacked the sh-t out of me.” Will Smith responded by shouting this twice: “Take my wife’s name out of your f–king mouth.” Rock replied, visibly shaken: “Wow, dude. It was a G.I. Jane joke.” The uncensored video:
I won’t even try to describe how social media lit up and how confusing it must have been in the room. Rock was not seen during the show after that, although Vanity Fair reports that he was backstage, making jokes about how Will channeled Muhammad Ali and “That’s the only time you get hit by Muhammad Ali and it doesn’t leave a scratch.” Sean Combs was the first presenter out after the incident and he went off-script, saying: “I didn’t know that this year was going to be the most exciting Oscars ever! Okay, Will, Chris—we’re going to solve that like family. But right now, we’re moving on with love.”
Reportedly, Rock has refused to press charges against Will for assault, so that answers the question of why Will was not arrested in the theater. The reporters in the Dolby Theater noted how several celebrities buzzed around Will and Jada following the incident. Denzel Washington pulled Will aside and spoke to him at length during the next break. Denzel also went to Jada and spoke to her. Nicole Kidman reportedly went over and gave Will and Jada big hugs. Serena Williams – who was seated separately – posted on her IG Stories that she had to leave the auditorium because she was so shocked. Will’s publicist was also speaking to him at length.
By the time Will won Best Actor, everyone was on edge and feeling pretty raw. Will wept and apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees. He did not apologize to Chris Rock on stage. He also said: “I know to do what we do, you’ve got to be able to take abuse.You’ve got to be able to have people disrespecting you, and you’ve got to smile and you’ve got to pretend like that’s okay.… I look like the crazy father, just like they said.… Love will make you do crazy things.”
I noted on Twitter that it genuinely felt like Will had more support in the room than Rock. While people were confused by what happened, it didn’t feel like Will was being shunned or what have you. The social commentary though… well, all I’ll say is that multiple things can be true at once and none of those things justify the other, nor are they equal. One, Chris Rock made a joke about Jada which upset her, and he did it during an Oscar telecast with an audience in the tens of millions. It was incredibly rude. Two, Will Smith assaulted a man live at the Oscars and he’s lucky he’s not facing criminal charges.
PS… Jada wore Jean Paul Gaultier, if anyone cares.
Photos courtesy of Getty, Avalon Red.