After Will Smith slapped Chris Rock, the Oscars took a turn
Editor’s note: This post contains information that some may find offensive.
It was an unsurprising Oscars TV show until Will Smith punched Chris Rock.
The favorites had mostly won: Ariana DeBose for West Side StoryTroy Kotsur for CODAnumerous technical awards for Dunes. The hosts – Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes – had cracked a bunch of jokes and suffered a few spells, some not bad and some really bad. Each unnecessary edit was judged for its merit against the eight awards the producers took from the live broadcast. A great Beyoncé musical number, a star-studded version of the Encanto hit “We’re Not Talking About Bruno” which some people liked and some emphatically didn’t. In other words, a pretty regular Sunday Oscar night.
It would later end with a Best Picture winner for the family drama CODA, but we didn’t know that yet. We just knew things were going largely to plan – Encanto for the animated feature film, drive my car for international functionality, and so on.
And then Chris Rock took the stage to present the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. He talked a bit about how Javier Bardem had better hope he wouldn’t win if “his wife” (i.e. contestant Penelope Cruz) didn’t win, which is your basis “women are the worse, right?” joke.
Then Rock turned to Jada Pinkett Smith. He said he couldn’t wait to see her in GI Jane 2. It was mostly a joke about his baldness, which he might know was related to alopecia. Will Smith briefly looked like he was laughing; she does not have.
Then it went really fast: movie star Will Smith, who won Best Actor for King Richard in, like, a few minutes – got on stage and punched Rock. Rock looked stunned, and Smith returned to his seat, then the sound cut off as they exchanged words. Smith yelled that Rock should keep Jada’s name out of his mouth, and then Rock, still looking shaken, gathered himself and presented the award to Questlove’s. Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Couldn’t Be Televised).
Many people wondered, at least briefly, if this had been some sort of scripted fake fight with a fake punch to match. But quickly, Rock’s demeanor and Smith’s both seemed to suggest that was exactly how he appeared: the favorite best actor simply got up from his seat, took the stage and punched the presenter for making a fuss. offensive joke about his wife. And perhaps more surprisingly, he was allowed to return to his seat and continue to watch as if nothing had happened. If anyone other than Will Smith – or someone else quite famous – had taken the stage and punched someone, they probably would have been escorted out, at the very least. But that would have created a pretty awkward “we accept this award on his behalf” moment.
Because it got stranger moments later, when Will Smith actually won his first Oscar for King Richard, in which he played the father of Venus and Serena Williams. As the speech rambled around — for obvious reasons, he couldn’t just deliver the one he had probably carefully planned — it was loosely framed around the idea that Smith, like Richard Williams, believed in protecting others, especially members of his family, especially women. He apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees for his behavior, but not to Rock. A few times he tried to slip into it charmingly, making little jokes about how he’d posed as “the crazy dad”, just like Richard Williams, adding more seriously that “love you do crazy things.”
It’s hard to overstate how much the mood of the room has changed, how awkward it has become. Rock’s joke had certainly been cheap, based on a condition Jada Pinkett Smith said she finds very painful, and it wasn’t Rock’s first joke at her expense – he also poked fun at her in 2016 for boycotting the Oscars over their race record.
And yet: Here is a man walking up to another man at a business event and punching him, just hit him, in front of an entire audience of people like those they both work with, then carries on as before – becoming, arguably, the most honored man of the night.
There’s no universe in which producers can or should be happy that all of this happened, but strictly for the record, it probably had the effect of keeping people from talking so much about the Oscars production decisions. which had drawn criticism in the weeks leading up to the ceremony. And they deserved plenty of criticism – especially a few Internet public opinion “polls” that claimed to give the public a voice and turned into fan wars, the results of which were displayed on screen with the least amount of fanfare. possible.
The telecast certainly had some good times and some intriguing stories to tell: Kotsur’s speech and DeBose’s were both great — a lot of the speeches were. It was interesting to see Dunes racking up awards for the craftsmanship that went into the film, despite the fact that Denis Villeneuve, the director who is responsible for coordinating all the vision, was not nominated. Also interesting that The power of the doglong considered a potential Best Picture winner, won only one of the 12 awards it was nominated for: Jane Campion won Best Director.
A sharp performance from Beyoncé, plenty of deserving winners (this isn’t a complete list), great clothes — and all the air escaped the room when that slap connected. People who should have been able to enjoy their moments, starting in Questlove, faced the consequences of behavior that ended up prompting post-ceremony statements from the Academy and the LAPD.
The Oscars are great for recognizing good work, encouraging audiences to see movies, and seeing people say nice things about the people who helped them succeed. It’s always a bad sign when the Academy—the Academy! — must tell people that he does not tolerate violence.