David Oyelowo: The Oscars slap should not be used an excuse to be racist

Two Sundays ago, Will Smith walked on stage at the Oscars and slapped Chris Rock. Will walked back to his front-row seat as Chris said “Wow, Will Smith just smacked the sh-t out of me. Wow, dude, it was a G.I. Jane joke…” Will, now seated, yelled “Keep my wife’s name out of your f–king mouth” twice. I’ve never denied how shocking the moment was or how inappropriate it was. Will Smith was wrong, period. But many people, especially many Black women, saw that everything wasn’t black-and-white, and there was nuance to the conversation, especially given Jada’s alopecia and Rock’s history of targeting Jada in particular. There was history there, and it colored the incident and many people acknowledged that. Some did not. Some people decided that what Will did was the worst thing that ever happened, that the stage of the Dolby Theater was drenched in blood, that no one would ever be able to recover from the trauma of seeing a man slap another man.

Today, the Academy’s higher-ups are meeting to discuss what should happen to Will, even after he repeatedly apologized and willingly gave up his membership in the Academy. Several punishments are on the table, clearly. Which brings me to this Hollywood Reporter guest column by David Oyelowo, who was actually there at the Oscars and witnessed the moment. He had a lot of thoughts about how racialized the Slap has become within Hollywood. Some highlights:

Oscars attendance: My experiences of attending the Oscars over the past few years have been steeped in unexpected drama and a constant intersection of public opinion, politics and race. In 2015, I had a front-row seat to the beginning of #OscarsSoWhite, having starred in the film that had a hand in starting it all, Selma. Two years later, I became part of a viral meme after my reaction was caught on camera as La La Land was wrongly cited as the winner of best picture instead of the actual winner, Moonlight.

Being a Black man in the world: As a Black man in the public eye, you are constantly aware of the fact that your very existence is political. You are consistently in a state of either being used as an example to perpetuate or debunk a stereotype. Those stereotypes are tied to criminality, civility, education, sexual prowess, poverty, social responsibility and so much more. It’s a burden I have to accept despite it being exhausting.

The Slap: The moment I realized the nature of what had just occurred on the stage at the Dolby Theatre, I was confronted by the same rising anxiety all Black people feel when the face that flashes up on the news after a crime is reported, is a Black one. You find yourself thinking, “What does this mean for us?” “What does that mean for me?” Very soon after the now-infamous Oscar ceremony, I walked into an Oscars afterparty and was immediately confronted by that which I feared. An older white gentleman sidled up to me with relish in his demeanor and said, “He should have been dragged right out of there.” You may well agree with that sentiment, but it’s not what he said, it’s the way he said it. I know that relish. I know that demeanor, and it is ugly to its core in all of its coded messaging.

Pushback on inclusive Academy membership: Since #OscarsSoWhite, great gains have been made by the Academy and the entertainment industry. The then-Academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, despite immense internal opposition and pressure, led the charge in forcing the Academy to improve its disgracefully uneven racial and gender demographics. That change clearly led to films and artisans who would traditionally be ignored being celebrated over the intervening years. That example had the very welcome effect of permeating our industry. It would be naive to assume that the incident between Will Smith and Chris Rock will not be pushed, by some industry professionals, through the lens of race. Some of them will be the same folks who resisted the inclusion measures Cheryl Boone Isaacs and her supporters at the Academy managed to push through and which led to a more diverse Academy.

Hollywood’s Big Lie: This intersection of personal opinion, politics and race is the same reason Black artists have for decades had to deal with Hollywood’s “big lie”: that Black films and artists don’t travel. Will Smith himself had a big hand in debunking that lie. It’s also the reason we have traditionally been celebrated more for playing subservient and criminalized roles than empowered and inspiring ones. It’s the reason we still have barely any Black executives who have the autonomy to greenlight anything that gets made.

Oyelowo’s fear: My fear is that this unfortunate incident, which has us all processing, will have a negative effect on the ongoing push for inclusion. There are those who, in a bid to make sure something of this nature never happens again, will operate through an unconscious — or conscious — bias. A bias that still governs so much of the decision-making in Hollywood. It would be tragic if a bid to prevent such an incident from happening again becomes an excuse for ideas about inclusion and diversity to backslide. That would only confirm the disingenuous nature of some of these pledges in the first place. This incident should not be a springboard for proxy arguments in Hollywood circles about race, respectability and belonging.

[From THR]

Exactly, I agree with him completely and it’s been fascinating and grotesque to watch the racial dynamics play out in real time – it wasn’t a history lesson, it was people overreacting, or reacting with racial bias, in real time, as it unfolded. And Oyelowo is absolutely right that there will be larger repercussions for inclusivity movements within Hollywood too. Even before the slap, there were old, white Academy members bitching about the “new members” and how much things had changed. Ugh.

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46 Responses to “David Oyelowo: The Oscars slap should not be used an excuse to be racist”

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  1. Sal says:

    The racist undertones and coded messaging are far worse than anything that happened on that stage.

    • Nikki says:


    • AlpineWitch says:

      Absolutely. And I’m totally disgusted by the OTT reactions of some white people (some of them surely supporting Trump, which means Putin who is a real genocidal maniac!), it’s still assault but it’s not like Rock needed medical care afterwards!!

      • Janet says:

        Thank you for the post I learned a lot. I’m Caucasian I grew up watching WS and it’s bc I was shocked by this b/c he has seemed so positive & happy go lucky. The slap seemed like an act like a performance with 1 actor.

    • ChillinginDC says:

      Agreed. And I am glad he brought up what the immediate aftermath was. Everyone’s language changed to he’s an animal, he needs to go to jail, he needs hauled away in cuffs, etc. That was said by people like Rob Reiner, Judd Apatow, other big players in Hollywood’s scene. And they don’t even get why they got the pushback from Black Twitter about this.

  2. AlpineWitch says:

    Imagine being so racist and such a white supremacist that instead of walking to the actual perpetrator of the crime, you go to someone who doesn’t even know the perpetrator (my assumption here, as I have no idea if David met Will but still) and who’s totally unrelated to the accident, just because… they share the same ‘race’? FFS.

    • Sigmund says:

      Exactly. This has brought so many awful, racist people forward. It’s sickening. Oyelowo was apparently just picked out of a crowd by this man because he’s black. And how many other people in the Academy think like him?

      Honestly, I don’t like how many people feel pressured to add the disclaimer about how violence is wrong, it was assault, etc. Violence is wrong when a system exists to protect that person and they choose to circumvent it anyway. Smith clearly did not feel a system was in place to protect his wife, and who are we to tell him he was wrong? Look at Oyelowo’s experience right after the slap.

    • ChillinginDC says:

      This always happens to Black people though. We’re made to answer questions about crime in Chicago, why can we say the N word to each other, what do we have to say about Black on Black crime or what Kanye West did. I didn’t see anyone going around equating white people with violence after January 6th. Instead the media and others tries to act like this is just what happens when people are really into conspiracies’.

      • Sal says:

        White males are the only group that hasn’t had to answer for the actions of everyone else in their demographic. In their minds, they get to be individuals, unlike everyone else.

        According to them, every black person is supposed to be responsible for the crime rate in Chicago, yet they think they can just sit on the couch and watch Fox News scapegoat the minority of the week instead of doing something about crimes that are committed by white people.

    • it's all your fault says:

      Some white people believe all black people know each other.

      That saying “You can help them. but you don’t bring them to the table” comes to mind.

      • AlpineWitch says:

        Wasn’t Trumpolini the one who addressed a black journo saying something similar, like she was supposed to know all the black people of the States?

        Sigmund, it’s revolting!! I only posted one comment in a thread after the event and steered clear of the rest, thinking it would have blown over soon but nope, it keeps going on and that’s just out of racism. I’d bet we wouldn’t talk about it anymore if Bradley Cooper had slapped Leonardo Di Caprio.

        ChillingDC, totally agree with you!!

    • Cava 24 says:

      There’s no way to know if the person taking to David Oyelowo knows whether Oyelowo knows Will Smith but this was announced in the trade papers a few weeks ago-

      Will Smith and David Oyelowo Team to Adapt ‘Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun’ for Netflix

      • Mrazi says:

        The thing to do here is believe Oyelowo when he says “it was the way he said it”. No need to look for reasons or excuses.

      • Cava 24 says:

        I am not doubting the tone and nature of that interaction at all, just pointing out that Will Smith and David Oyelowo know each other since people were commenting on that specifically and it is relevant to the questions Oyelowo posited in his essay “What does it mean for us?” “What does it mean for me?”. If people are concerned that other nominees’ and winners’ work got overshadowed by the event then they need to be equally concerned that the whole black filmmaking community doesn’t get overshadowed by this. It’s notable that he’s not focused on his own project but on the bigger picture. There’s a risk that HW will make cosmetic moves towards trying to stay/become more inclusive but the undertow will actually be worse in the ways he’s describing.

  3. Bettyrose says:

    The fact that King Richard received so much recognition and that Will Smith won a well deserved Oscar is the sign of that shift. And Jane Campion’s gross comment about Venus and Serena is the perfect illustration of how uncomfortable many in Hollywood are with the shift. I can imagine the pain and fear Oyelowo describes is pervasive right now. Will Smith must be feeling an intense burden of responsibility too. I really want to see this fade into the cloth if all the weird Oscar happenings of yore, mostly forgotten, and personally I want him back in the Academy. Will Smith is very talented and deserves his position in Hollywood.

    • Persephone says:

      Agree 100% Bettyrose.

    • Sal says:

      I agree that it’s a good sign of one shift in the right direction.

      It’s still telling that Hollywood couldn’t come up with a way to tell the story of the greatest athlete of all time across all sports without making the man in her life the focal point and shifting the credit to him to make the story more palatable to the broader population.

      • Lightpurple says:

        Serena and Venus were producers and wanted to make a film that paid tribute to their father. That was their decision to focus on him, not them.

    • Bex says:

      That “fear” only comes into play of you’ve never listened to Black Americans. Black American actors in Hollywood aren’t afraid because they already know their acceptance is conditional, so they work accordingly by founding their own production companies, working for and with each othe, and supporting one another.

      To me, David’s comments read like someone who has come to the realization that the acceptance he THOUGHT he had isn’t as permanent as he hoped.

      The fact he, of all people, was given a column in The Hollywood Reporter is telling though.

  4. Jess says:

    Perfectly said.

  5. Michael says:

    I noticed how Fox News was gleefully covering it as if it were a world war. It plays to their base to think African Americans are incapable of curbing violent urges so they are more than happy to feed them red meat. They did not cover Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry jumping right in to calm the situation though because leadership is not what they wanted to convey

  6. CherriePie84 says:

    Well said David! I cant even go on YouTube in peace without the story popping up even though I have actively refrained from clicking.

  7. eb says:

    I don’t recall Polanski or Weinstein facing the wrath of the academy board. That makes this feel racial.

    Maybe some other prominent actors need to point out what David did.

    • Bettyrose says:

      Recently glanced at the YouTube footage of the standing ovation Child Rapist/fugitive-from-justice received when his Oscar was awarded in absentia in 2002. He wasn’t even there for the obvious reasons he’s not allowed in the US and people (cough Meryl Streep cough) were practically falling out of their seats rushing to display their admiration.

      • kirk says:

        Bettyrose – Thanks for the heads up on Meryl Streep.
        Krabapple – Thanks for the heads up on Kate Winslet, knew Cate Blanchett prob.
        Helps to keep track of white women that are objectionable IMO.

    • Mrs.Krabapple says:

      The standing ovation for Polanski was disgusting. So was the petition in his favor that was signed by many, many, many Hollywood players. I still only half-understand why so many of his supports (like Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, Harrison Ford, etc.) get a pass — I mean, I guess it’s because they are talented actors and can project a likeable persona to the public? But part of me can never forget it, and it comes back up in my mind every time I hear their names. Now that Smith has been banned for 10 years, I am waiting for the Academy to address Polanski and others . . .

  8. Trina says:

    I got chills reading his description of how that white man approached him. I know exactly what he means. Anyway, I’m a big fan of David’s.

  9. John says:

    Hollywood and America relies on the black community for all their creative inspiration. Be it fashion; Film; Sports, et al. The best examples are in the black community.
    What was sad about this wasn’t that he hit him but that he wasn’t big enough to apologize to him on stage instead of declaring himself some kind of Messiah for his people and his ego being stoked by so many of his peers.
    Also black women at their core are the strongest form of female. She didn’t need him acting all hopped up and pretend masculine. A violent act is a violent act. It only has its place in one defending oneself from actual violence, not misplaced or crass jokes that if not laughed at would have had a much stronger effect long term.

    • WithLove says:

      Are you a black woman, John? Please stop with the misogynoir.
      Black women aren’t any stronger than any other women. Your language is dehumanizing and robs black women of their womanhood and femininity.
      Btw, Jada is like 4’11. She’s a tiny woman. I doubt she could reach Rock’s left cheek even if she tried.

      • Grant says:

        Who cares how tall Jada is? I don’t think it would have been appropriate for her to walk up on stage and slap Chris Rock either.

        As someone who suffered brutal domestic violence in a previous relationship, watching Will Smith proudly strut onstage and slap Chris Rock on national television was extremely triggering for me. I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone with all these people acting like his response was appropriate. Words don’t justify violence in a court of law and they don’t justify violence here.

    • AC says:

      @John, your entire comment is ridiculous and a bit racist. The fact that you said, “black females are the strongest of females”, is another misconception from way back in the day. As though we don’t have weaknesses and can handle anything because we are so strong or not human. Get out of here with that racist s—! I can tell you are not a person of color, so don’t speak for any of us, ever!

      • Sigmund says:

        @ Grant Please stop centering yourself in an issue that is not about you. Please also reflect on the privilege afforded to you that allows you to broadly state that violence is never okay.

    • kirk says:

      “…black women at their core are the strongest form of female.” Wow. No stereotyping going on there.

  10. Eloisa says:

    I read Jada spoke publicly, it is true?

  11. Formerly Lithe says:

    Seeing how this David’s statement is being framed by various publications, I’m that much more grateful to you, Kaiser, for covering it.

  12. Grant says:

    If we’re going to start censoring comedians than let’s circle back to Dave Chapelle and the horrible things he’s said (unapologetically) about trans people.

  13. Mrs.Krabapple says:

    The Academy just banned Smith for 10 years. I don’t disagree that the Academy can/should issue some type of ban for illegal behavior, but since they are starting with Smith, it’s time to address others — like banning Adrien Brody for groping Halle Berry, no more Roman Polanski nominations/awards, etc.

    • Patrisse says:

      As a BW I always take opinions of BM with wyt spouses with a grain of salt. End

      • kirk says:

        Patrisse – didn’t know Oyelowo had a wyt spouse, but that might be why “older white gentleman” felt emboldened enough to share his opinion that Will Smith should have been “dragged” out of there.

    • Charm says:

      And I hope the pushback on this unfair punishment to Will is severe, immediate and sustained.

      The academy can start their mia culpas years and decades after-the-fact by issuing bans to all the academy members and attendees to the oscars and related academy events, who committed socially unacceptable acts over the years…..just as theyve done to Will.

      As you mentioned, they can start with Adrien Brody for sexually assaulting Halle Berry on the oscars stage in ’03; and Jim Carey for sexually assaulting a young Alicia Silverstone on the oscars stage back in ’97. Unless, of course, the academy members and leaders dont believe that sexual assault of women is as serious as will slapping chris rock on the oscars stage.

    • bettyrose says:

      Am I crazy or did Adrian Brody grope Halle Berry in response to winning an Oscar for his performance in a Polanski film? I’m not trying to make a reach here but perhaps there was a certain culture surrounding that entire production?

      • kirk says:

        No you’re not crazy. I read somewhere that Adrian Brody had started dating Harvey Weinstein’s ex-wife – wonder how that’s turned out.

  14. bettyrose says:

    Breaking news that Will Smith is now banned from attending the Oscars for 10 years. To be fair, they didn’t have to ban Polanski who isn’t allowed in the U.S. but clearly the Academy needs a consistent moral code applied equally to all its members. You know, so it doesn’t feel like there’s a weird inequality happening here. Not in Hollywood.

    • kirk says:

      Consistent moral code? Difficult with life appointments and new (colored) people banging at door to get in. Haven’t sat down and watched Oscars in years (too long, too boring, too many unfunny hosts treating it as stand-up gig) and now bifurcated awards. Obviously they’re feeling powerful now having been jazzed up with all the talk about ‘the slap.’ How can they follow that?

      • Cava 24 says:

        Each of the Academy’s branches is represented by three governors, who serve staggered three-year terms. Every year, one seat in each branch is up for election.

  15. Otaku fairy says:

    “It would be tragic if a bid to prevent such an incident from happening again becomes an excuse for ideas about inclusion and diversity to backslide. That would only confirm the disingenuous nature of some of these pledges in the first place.” This.