A surreal, strange, meaningless or clearly provocative scene has gone down in awards history and, without a doubt, the year. All because of a slap in the face from the comedian and presenter Chris Rock, starring Will Smith, one of the most adored and sympathetic stars in cinema on the night he finally received the Oscar for Best Actor, crowning a singular career that made him a reference in Hollywood. No mincing words? A disgrace to Will Smith.
Chris Rock has been the main Oscar presenter more than once and his “jokes” have always been uncomfortable. Chris has always poked at industry racism, long before diversity was opened the door. Undaunted, he was the presenter in the year the Academy was tarnished for not having any “non-Caucasian” reps in the top categories, in 2016 and it was there that he planted the seed he reaped 6 years later with the same couple, Jada and Will Smith. At the time, Jada called for boycotting the party and Chris made a mockery in the air that boycotting a party to which she was not invited was useless. What remained was a targeted verbal assault that even at the time caused surprise.
In the decade that followed, things did not improve for the couple. Jada, who is an open actress and has a talk show on Facebook, came out with being bipolar, her extramarital affairs, and many dramas, with unrestricted support from Will, who is clearly deeply in love with her. Three years ago, when the two spoke of the agreement they have about their way of loving, which appears to be an open marriage, the world was a mixture of pity and confusion towards the two. Naturally, the subject became a joke, and Regina Hall was the first to use it on the night when she listed the actor as one of her candidates for a Covid re-examination. In that awkward moment, Jada pretended to laugh and Will refused to joke around and go up on stage but smiled.
For that reason, when Chris Rock called Jada GI Jane, in a reference to the 1997 Ridley Scott film with Demi Moore (in which the most famous scene has the actress shaved her head), no one laughed or was necessarily irritated, all but the couple. It’s just that Jada admitted to having changed her look because she suffers from the autoimmune disease Alopecia, so it’s not a purely aesthetic option out of daring, but out of necessity. That way, Chris would have been rude again, but nothing justifies what happened next.
The presenter made the joke impromptu and the camera shows Will Smith laughing, but Jada rolling her eyes. In seconds the weather changes. The actor takes the stage and like Chris, we had the impression that he was going to make some joke or complaint, but with respect. None of that. As he approached, Will gave Chris a resounding slap in the face, who was even shocked laughed, and stood his ground. He was the one who admitted on the air “Will Smith just slapped the s*** out of me” as the actor returned to his chair, from where he cursed his colleague, telling him to stop f***ing talking about his wife twice. Chris didn’t miss a beat: “I’ll do it”, he warned and resumed the text introducing the candidates and the winner of Best Documentary. Nobody paid attention, really. How could we?
Less than 20 minutes later, it was time to announce the Best Actor and unsurprisingly it was Will Smith‘s night. The star was already laughing seconds after the assault, took the stage, cried, said he was moved by “love” and the need to protect his wife. “We do crazy things for love”, he justified himself in tears to an audience still stunned. He apologized to colleagues and the Academy, but not to Chris Rock. Or us.
Will Smith’s emotional and psychological imbalance has been exposed for many years with the honesty he and Jada decided to lead their lives. However the chose to live, there were a thousand other ways to defend it without resorting to physical violence and it is unacceptable that anyone still considers that the actor had any sense of reason for the pitiful scene he chose for his legacy. It will never be dissociated from it and it is a fair consequence. Chris Rock was more stunned by this than anything else: “This scene has gone down in TV history,” he lamented at the time.
Oscar nights have been like this, 99.9% predictability, but the 1% that ALWAYS surprises has been more and more shocking. Announcing the wrong movie was at a level that only the Best Actor of the night slapping the presenter could surpass.
Chris Rock is wrong to play with the health, aesthetics, and pain of a woman who is honest about her suffering. The joke, without humor, was insensitive and rude. However, the physical act that Will Smith chose as an answer is even worse. Physical aggression is never the answer. Never for love, for anything in this world. Will Smith was wrong. A myth shattered before our eyes. And that was the first big post-covid night. The world really hasn’t been the same again.
In addition, the victories of Troy Kotsur, Ariana DeBose, Jane Campion, Kenneth Branagh, Billie Eilish, and even Jessica Chastain were expected. CODA has gained momentum in recent months and won Best Picture, but it didn’t get to be a zebra because it brings together the traditional elements of an Academy film.
Let’s see how it goes in 2023. Better avoid putting Ricky Gervais in the same environment as offended actors. After all, if love justifies everything, it will be a night worthy of Mike Tyson.
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