It was the bombshell moment of the Oscars. Not feel-good best picture winner CODA, or historic wins for Afro-Latina actor Ariana DeBose or deaf actor Troy Kotsur, or the Academy hiring not one but three hosts – Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall – for the first time since 2018. No, by far the most talked-about moment of the 94th annual Academy Awards was when the best actor winner, Will Smith, took offence to a joke by presenter Chris Rock and slapped him onstage.
Rock had joked about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, as being ready for “GI Jane 2” – seemingly a reference to her shaved head. (Pinkett-Smith has been open about having alopecia, which causes hair loss.) Smith then walked to the stage, slapped Rock, and sat back down, before shouting “keep my wife’s name out of your f**king mouth” twice.
Reactions online, of course, ranged from delighted memes to concern. Some supported Smith, including the actor's 23-year-old son Jaden Smith, who wrote on Twitter minutes after the ceremony: "And That's How We Do It."
US representative Ayanna Pressley, who has also been open about stigma faced with alopecia, tweeted and deleted a defence of Smith. "#Alopecia nation stand up! Thank you #WillSmith Shout out to all the husbands who defend their wives living with alopecia in the face of daily ignorance & insults," the deleted tweet read.
Some, including Conan O'Brien and Abbott Elementary star Quinta Brunson, revelled in the messiness while others in Hollywood simply gaped.
Or, as actor LaKeith Stanfield put it in an interview on the red carpet for the Vanity Fair Oscar party: “I don’t know, it was crazy. I don’t know, it was surreal.”
Some were appalled by Smith’s behaviour, seeing it as an example of the normalization of violence.
"Violence isn't ok. Assault is never the answer," tweeted actor Sophia Bush. "Also? This is the 2nd time that Chris has made fun of Jada on the #Oscars stage, & tonight he went after her alopecia. Punching down at someone's auto-immune disease is wrong. Doing so on purpose is cruel. They both need a breather."
"Let me tell you something, it's a very bad practice to walk up on stage and physically assault a Comedian," tweeted comedian Kathy Griffin. "Now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theaters."
“Someone in the audience charged the stage Friday night during my opener’s set and attempted to throw the speaker, started taking swings at the people trying to stop her and pushed down a security guard. It’s scary times. So, no, I don’t find someone getting hit on stage amusing,” tweeted comedian Fortune Feimster.
“The ‘vessels of love’ I have known or admired never acted violently against another human being…” tweeted the actor Cary Elwes, referring to Smith’s acceptance speech for best actor, in which he said he felt called to be a “vessel of love”.
One official body to weigh in was the Los Angeles police department (LAPD), which released the following statement: “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program. The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report.
“If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.” – Guardian