Sadly, Will Smith’s slap will leave an indelible mark

While he’s unlikely to lose his Oscar, the actor’s ugly attack will forever tarnish what should have been a night of glory for ‘CODA,’ Ariana DeBose and himself.

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Chris Rock (left) reacts to being confronted on stage by Will Smith during Sunday night’s Oscars telecast.

Chris Rock (left) reacts to being confronted on stage by Will Smith during Sunday night’s Oscars telecast.


Well, they did promise this year’s Academy Awards ceremony was going to be different, and nobody can say that wasn’t the case.

Unfortunately, when we look back on the 94th annual Oscars, what we remember won’t be the amazing triumph for “CODA” as best picture, Troy Kotsur becoming the second deaf person to win Oscar, Ariana DeBose’s beautiful speech after winning gold for reprising the role of Anita from “West Side Story” some 60 years after Rita Moreno won the Academy Award for playing the same character, Jessica Chastain’s deserved win for best actress, Beyonce’s transformative performance of “Be Alive” from Compton to kick off the broadcast or even Will Smith’s career-crowning best actor win.

It’ll be The Slap and its aftermath. That’s what everyone is talking about and that’s what everyone will be talking about in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

When Chris Rock took the stage at the Dolby Theatre to present the best documentary award, we knew the always-irreverent Rock would crack a joke or two—and sure enough, Rock quipped about Jada Pinkett Smith being in “G.I. Jane 2,” referencing Jada’s short-cropped hair and apparently unaware Pinkett Smith has alopecia.

Will Smith stormed the stage, slapped Rock with an open hand and returned to his seat and said, twice: “Keep my wife’s name out of your f-----g mouth!” as Rock responded, “Dude, it was a ‘G.I. Jane’ joke.”

We’ve seen some wild, unscripted moments at the Oscars through the years, from Sacheen Littlefeather explaining why Marlon Brando was turning down his best actor award in 1973 to a streaker zipping past David Niven the following year to the accidental announcement of “La La Land” as best picture over actual winner “Moonlight” in 2017—but this was the most stunning moment in Academy Awards history.

A short while later, Smith was onstage to accept the best actor award, and while he apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees and obviously was overcome with heartfelt emotion, he didn’t express remorse to Rock and there was something unsettling about what should have been a purely celebratory moment, as the ugliness of his attack on Rock still hung over the proceedings like a dark cloud.

(Interestingly enough, when Regina Hall made a joke about Will and Jada reportedly having an open marriage earlier in the show, Jada laughed out loud while Will looked a bit uncomfortable—but remained in his seat.)

Smith certainly seemed to shake off any residual guilt he might have been feeling, as cameras caught him holding his Oscar and jamming along to “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” at an after-party. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Police Department has said Rock won’t press charges against Smith, effectively ending any investigation into a possible criminal case.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences condemned Smith’s slap and issued a statement saying, “The Academy does not condone violence in any form.” It said it is conducting a review to explore further action and consequences,” but tabloid reports suggesting that “furious Oscar bosses” are holding “secret crisis talks over stripping Will Smith” of the Oscar seem far-fetched at best. They’re going to take away Smith’s Oscar but not strip Harvey Weinstein, a convicted rapist, of his Academy Award for co-producing “Shakespeare in Love”? (Weinstein’s membership in the Academy has been revoked, but they didn’t take back his Oscar.)

This wasn’t the first time Rock has poked fun at Jada and Will from onstage at the Oscars, which might explain—but certainly not justify—why Will was literally fighting mad. In 2016, Pinkett Smith had protested the Academy’s lack of diversity by boycotting the Oscar ceremony Rock hosted. Rock joked on stage, “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited!”

He also referenced Pinkett Smith’s insistence that Smith should have been nominated for his “Concussion” performance. “I get it,” Rock said. “It’s also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for ‘Wild Wild West.’ ”

While some have applauded Smith’s assault on Rock—Tiffany Haddish said it “meant so much to me” to see “that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives”—it’s difficult to fathom how Smith’s actions could be interpreted as anything other than ugly and violent and unnecessary.

Was it a cheap and stupid joke? Sure. Could Smith have responded after the Oscars, or directly and privately to Rock, or in any just about way imaginable that didn’t involve violence? Absolutely. But in the heat of the moment and the spur of the moment, he attacked a man for telling a joke, and forever shifted the conversation, in a negative way, about the 94th Academy Awards. It’s a damn shame.

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