Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars provoked intense opinions online, especially from comedians and actors who felt it was an assault on their art.
“Let me tell you something, it’s a very bad practice to walk up on stage and physically assault a comedian,” Kathy Griffin wrote on Twitter. “Now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theatres.”
The violent exchange began when Rock took verbal aim at Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, saying, “Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2. Can’t wait to see it, all right?” Rock’s reference was made from the 1997 film G.I. Jane, starring Demi Moore, who shaved her head to portray a fictional Navy Seal candidate.
Will Smith, her husband, walked onto the stage and took a swing at Rock with an open palm, generating a loud smack. Smith walked back to his seat and shouted for Rock to leave Pinkett Smith alone. Rock replied that he was just making a G.I. Jane joke — and Smith yelled back at him a second time.
Smith shouted at Rock to “keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth”, and the crowd hushed as it became clear this was no act. Smith later won the best actor Oscar. Rock chose not to file a police report.
“Will Smith owes Chris Rock a huge apology. There is no excuse for what he did. He’s lucky Chris is not filing assault charges,” producer, director and actor Rob Reiner commented on Twitter.
Kiwi actor and director Taika Waititi was pictured open-jawed in a Twitter post by American fashion journalist Derek Blasberg.
Serena Williams, the tennis star whose father, Richard, was portrayed by Smith in his Oscar-winning performance, shared a video on Instagram of herself looking shocked. In a second clip, the sportswoman admitted she “had to put her drink down”.
George Takei said Smith’s losing his cool was a bad look when so many people were watching: “Many people, especially kids, look up to actors. Because of that, we have an obligation to try to be good role models. With celebrity comes responsibility.”
Pinkett-Smith revealed in 2018 that she was diagnosed with alopecia. She has often discussed the challenges of hair loss on Instagram and other social media platforms.
Some commentators noted that alopecia is a painful experience that many black women go through and should not be joked about. Rock himself helped create the documentary Good Hair, exploring African American women and their relationship to their hair.
However unfunny Rock’s joke was, it paled in comparison to some awards show digs in years past, including from acerbic Ricky Gervais, who has skewered the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Judy Dench and Felicity Huffman.
The Academy had tweeted the following response:
Judd Apatow was highly critical of Smith in a now-deleted Twitter post, describing the attack “out of control rage and violence”. He noted that celebrities have been the target of jokes for decades: “They’ve heard a million jokes about them in the last three decades. They are not freshman in the world of Hollywood and comedy. He lost his mind.”
The writer Roxane Gay responded: “This is a wild thing to say Judd. As a fan, I urge you to really rethink this. It was not uncontrolled violence. The video is widely available so you know this.”
Sharing a photo of the moment on Instagram, the rapper 50 Cent wrote: “B—- don’t you ever play with me. LOL.”
And Mark Hamill called the incident the ugliest Oscar moment ever, tweeting: “Stand-up comics are very adept at handling hecklers. Violent physical assault … not so much.”
Janai Nelson, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defence and Educational Fund, wrote: “I know we’re all still processing, but the way casual violence was normalised tonight by a collective national audience will have consequences that we can’t even fathom in the moment.”
But former late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien was among those making light of the situation, writing on Twitter: “Just saw the Will Smith slap. Anyone have a late night show I can borrow just for tomorrow?”
Marshall Herskovitz, the producer of The Last Samurai, urged the Academy to do more.
He said on Twitter: “I call upon the Academy, of which I am a member, to take disciplinary action against Will Smith.
“He disgraced our entire community tonight.”
Actress Mia Farrow tweeted: “It was just a joke. Jokes are what Chris Rock does. Always has been edgy. This was a mild joke for him. And I love GI Jane.”
Referring to words from Smith’s tearful and apologetic acceptance speech, the English actor Cary Elwes said: “The ‘vessels of love’ I have known or admired never acted violently against another human being…”
One Tree Hill star Sophia Bush commented that “violence isn’t OK”.
She added: “Assault is never the answer. Also? This is the 2nd time that Chris has made fun of Jada on the Oscar stage, and 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.”
Considering all the outcry on Twitter, one might spare a thought for the owner of the @willsmith handle. The actor’s namesake, a podcaster and video game designer, tweeted: “Whelp.”
He added: “At the risk of making people p—– off at me instead of that other guy, the world would be a better place if we stopped answering words with violence.”
— AP and The Daily Telegraph
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