I’ve always been baffled by the attention people lavish on the Oscars. For me, the Academy Awards ceremony ranks up there with the British Royal Family and the Westminster Dog Show. I just don’t get it.
Then again, I’m obsessed with the fortunes of a bunch of guys in pinstriped pajamas trying to hit a little ball with a long wooden bat. So who am I to judge?
Last night’s Oscars actually made headlines for a reason other than some young star’s side-boob or an aging actor’s scold on the latest injustice. Will Smith, who didn’t know it at the moment but would in short order be named Best Actor, smacked with an open hand or slugged with a close fist — I couldn’t tell which — comedian Chris Rock.
It ranks up there with other ad-libbed acts on Oscar night through the years, including Sasheen Littlefeather standing in for Marlon Brando, the streaker who ran past David Niven, and the time the presenter announced the wrong Best Picture winner.
Anyway, Rock joked that Jada Pinkett Smith’s next movie should be GI Jane II. It got a chuckle because in the original GI Jane, Demi Moore had her head shaved. The joke being Pinkett Smith, recently revealed to be suffering from alopecia, likely won’t have to be shaved for the role.
It was a tiny bit risky, making light of her medical condition. Still, it’d be forgotten almost before the chuckling had died down but Smith strode on stage and whacked Rock. As he marched back to his seat, he announced, loudly, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!”
It may be the first time anybody ever clouted anybody else at the Oscars. I’m willing to bet there’ve been some thumbs thrown at one or another of the booze- and cocaine-fueled after-parties, but during the proceedings, I doubt it. Again I don’t know because, again, I don’t care.
The incident is big news this AM. People are gleefully expounding on it around the world. Editorialists are trying to Make Sense of It All. Opinionators are wondering What It All Means.
Let’s take a look at it through a variety of lenses.
Perhaps the first thing to consider is as yet we have no idea what Pinkett Smith thinks of the whole thing. She did not mount that stage and clock Rock. It was her husband. Many people find humor to be a healthy way of dealing with whatever malady has befallen them. I spent about six months making jokes about my cancer back in 2016. That, of course, doesn’t mean everybody enjoys a good guffaw when it comes to, say, a recent diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. But, again, we don’t know what Pinkett Smith’s views are.
We do know that the gag incensed Will Smith enough to resort to violence. And the funny thing is, many of the folks who’ve been decrying American society’s recent decent into violence (really, not a new development, after all, but…, y’know) have endorsed Smith’s slug. Or whack. Or whatever.
One social media poster I know wrote: “Chris Rock got what he deserved. Making jokes about a person’s disease is crossing that fine line between humor & inappropriate.”
Another poster wrote: “I spent years, as a volunteer & professional, involved w issues of domestic and other forms of violence… and Smith’s violent behavior is normalized every.single.day across the globe.”
Pinkett Smith’s kid, Jaden, tweeted: “And that’s how we do it.” Whatever it is and whoever we are.
It turns out Rock has made jokes about the Pinkett Smiths before. Back in 2016, they boycotted the Oscars over the Academy’s historic pushing of black actors and filmmakers toward the back of the bus. Will Smith the previous year had starred in the movie, Concussion, and many believed the Academy’s snub of him for the Best Actor nomination was yet another example of Hollywood’s apartheid. Rock, 2016 Oscars host, cracked: “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”
Pinkett Smith took it in apparent good humor. Appropriate since, that’s what it was all about. “Hey look,” she told reporters afterward, “it comes with the territory.”
Pinkett Smith, after all, like everybody in the hall, makes her living standing before millions of people, essentially shouting, “Hey, look at me.” And she certainly hasn’t kept her alopecia a secret, so Rock wasn’t betraying any confidences.
And, again, we still have no idea what she thinks of the crack at this time.
But we know her man was moved to fisticuffs. Lawyers might tell us what Will Smith did to Chris Rock last night constitutes criminal assault and battery.
“He should have been arrested,” wrote Clemmie Moodie, the entertainment columnist for The Sun.
Moodie, I should point out, is a white woman. This is relevant because Will Smith is a black man. How might she have reacted if the swinger was white? How might the fallout have differed had Smith instead been, say, Tom Hanks? We’ve come a long way, baby, and overt racism is frowned upon in this day and age — cryptic references and dog whistles are preferred now — but the idea of a black man driven angry enough to start swinging still scares the bejesus out of way too many white people.
And too many women remain, even in these “enlightened” times, scared to death of too many men. Spousal and domestic abuse continues to be a dangerous epidemic around the world. The guys most likely to beat the hell out of their female mates seem to see their women as…, well, their women. One woman wrote on social media: “I am also stunned how many people are saying they would ‘stand up for their woman’ in the same way…. Violence in the name of protecting a woman is OK? Does it get more patriarchal than this?”
For all we know, Jada Pinkett Smith might have been mortified by her husband’s impulsive reaction. Thus far, there’ve been many ways to look at this incident. The only way we haven’t considered is Jada Pinkett Smith’s way.