By now many of you would have seen Will Smith slapping Chris Rock during the Academy Awards. It has sparked debates ranging from Jada’s infidelity, Will Smith’s immaturity, what this unfortunate interaction says about Black people and so much more. While not all of these are positive, they are all conversations that need to happen.
Human interactions and relationships are always fraught with complexity. That’s because we are, by our very nature, complex beings. That complexity increases when there is a lack of congruency between our words and our actions. For example, a man may say “I love you” to his wife but his actions may not always reflect that love. Or a politician may claim to stand for integrity and be caught scheming to defraud the public. But the human mind is so complex that we can justify those times of incongruity or worse, we ignore them altogether. As you might expect, this does not always end well.
Thus, bringing us to what Will Smith did to Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards. However, before we get into the incident, let’s take time to understand the context. This was an award ceremony that has been an annual event for elite actors since 1928. Over the years it has come to be an event where these extremely rich people try to show that their immense wealth has not overshadowed their humanity. One of the ways they’ve done this is through comedic roasts. The point being if you can make fun of someone in their presence on nationwide television then obviously, they’re not as privileged as they appear to be. This all changed in 2020 when Ricky Gervais was asked to host the Awards. He brazenly turned the mirror back to the audience and shone the lights in their faces. He went on to challenge the Hollywood elites and their “woke-ness”.
Fast forward to 2022. Chris Rock is on stage and starts making fun of his audience. He makes fun of Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz and then turns his attention to Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith. He makes a remark about Jada’s latest look. A bald head. At first, we see Will – in typical Hollywood fashion – laughing along with Chris Rock’s joke. Remember, it’s the context. The camera flashes on Jada Pinkett-Smith and shows that she is not impressed by being the butt of the joke. Suddenly Will Smith is seen casually walking to the stage. Chris Rock appears unsure of what’s about to happen. This uncertainty is well called for because what does happen shocks everyone. Will Smith slaps the comedian across his face and strides back to his seat. Will Smith would then shout expletives at Chris Rock, who for an over-the-top comedian was very calm, mature, and collective about what had just happened to him.
After winning his award, Will Smith then compared his violence to the life of the character he played in the movie that won him the nomination and award. How does a man equate his role depicting the struggle of Richard Williams fighting against all odds to help his daughters' become icons in the sport of tennis, with slapping a comedian for making a joke? The comparison is negligible to say the least.
In a show where comedians regularly make jokes about the people in their audience, what did Chris Rock say to deserve that very public and humiliating response?
I know that many people will say that he was ‘defending his wife’ but my question is – given the context, what was he defending her against? Again, given the context, what did Chris Rock say that would cause such hurt to Jada Pinkett-Smith and consequently cause Will Smith to walk up to him and slap him?
Did Chris Rock insult her womanhood?
Did he question her chastity?
Did he sully her good name?
Did he belittle her marriage?
Did he disparage her integrity?
If this was a change in the Academy Awards content – i.e. no banter about guests then it would seem that no one told Chris Rock. Furthermore, even if this was the case, violence WAS NOT the default way to address it. In fact, violence is NEVER a path unless destruction was to goal.
Denzel Washington told Will Smith “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”
In that moment Will Smith saw Chris Rock as the devil who had come to challenge him.
My question is, was Chris Rock the devil here…or had Will Smith become his own devil?