The incident between Will Smith and Chris Rock inspired essential conversations
The recently concluded 2022 Oscars inspired spirited conversations that go beyond a heated moment between two men on a public stage. The altercation between A-list celebrities and entertainers, Will Smith and Chris Rock, encompasses many topics—from a hair loss condition to domestic violence, and even race.
Will Smith’s Family History
The infamous slap, which reverberated in every home watching the Oscars, may be attributed to Smith’s own childhood tainted by domestic violence. In his bestselling 2021 autobiography, Will, he narrates his “transformation from a fearful child in a tense West Philadelphia home to one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood history.” He writes in length about witnessing a terrifying act of violence his father carried out against his mother—and his inability to do anything about it, which continues to haunt him.
“When I was nine years old, I watched my father punch my mother in the side of the head so hard that she collapsed,” he writes. “I saw her spit blood. That moment in that bedroom, probably more than any other moment in my life, has defined who I am.”
Upon winning Best Actor at the 94th Academy Awards for King Richard, the biographical sports drama film that centers on family, Will tearfully defends his actions by saying, “Love will make you do crazy things.” This drew ire from many, especially victims of domestic abuse so easily triggered by his justification of violence.
In his post-Oscars apology, he acknowledges that violence isn’t the answer. Smith notes, “Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable.”
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Will’s mother, Carolyn Smith, has spoken out against the Sunday incident, too. She reveals, “[Will] is a very even, people person. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen him go off. First time in his lifetime…I’ve never seen him do that.”
A Medical Disorder and “Black Pain”
Since Sunday’s controversy, many have looked up “alopecia,” the autoimmune disorder Jada Pinkett-Smith suffers from, which results in hair loss. Will’s wife of 24 years revealed her diagnosis back in 2018, and since then has spoken publicly about the condition, which has no known cure.
In an episode of her talk show, Red Table Talk, she recalls the terrifying moment she first noticed she was losing “handfuls of hair.” She reveals, “It was one of those times in my life where I was literally shaking with fear.”
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The G.I. Jane comment Chris Rock said in jest, referring to Jada’s bald head, struck a chord. In a round table hosted by The New York Times, contributing opinion writer Esau McCaulley, Ph.D explains, “I think there are a lot of hurting people who feel like they’re ignored, who are triggered by this particular incident.” McCaulley continues: “I think there is a disabled community who often feel— actually, not feel, are—disrespected and mocked. I think there’s Black women and their general disrespect that they experience as a part of being a Black woman in America. I think there’s the particular issue of Black women and their hair.”
For the first time, Chris Rock has spoken up about Sunday’s incident at a show set in The Wilbur in Boston. He reveals that he's still processing what happened. Rock later adds in a standup routine that “Except for a couple weird things, life is pretty good right now.” He has declined to file a police report against Will Smith.
Indian American producer Joseph Patel, who won that night alongside Questlove and two other producers for the documentary Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), felt robbed of his win because of Smith. Chris Rock was presenting the Best Documentary Feature when the incident happened.
On Twitter, Patel divulges, “I think what Will did was selfish. It robbed the category of its moment. It robbed the other excellent and amazing films of their moment to be acknowledged in what was a STRONG year for docs. And it robbed Summer of Soul and our team of our moment. Of a loud, enthusiastic cheer for a celebrated film.”
The Academy has started disciplinary proceedings against Will Smith, noting that he refused to leave the ceremony after being asked. The actor now faces “suspension, expulsion or other sanctions permitted” in violation of “inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior, and compromising the integrity of the Academy.”
Art Gail Ordiales