Today an event happened at the 94th Academy Awards. We should not be talking about it more than we are talking about the plight of people in Ukraine, the devastation of Myanmar, or the fact that the Taliban have reneged on allowing females to go to school. But we are, and since we are, well… here I am.
Will Smith verbally and physically abused Chris Rock, live in the middle of the Oscars.
It was a fascinating 1 minute and 18 seconds of human interaction which has sent the Twittersphere into a spin and social commentators straight to their keyboards.
For those who missed it, let me bring you up to speed:
Chris Rock arrives on stage to present an award. Being a comedian in front of a very large audience, he does what he is expected to do- he makes a few jokes about people in the crowd and get a few laughs. Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith are seated in the front and Rock jokes, “Jada, I love you. G.I Jane 2, I can’t wait to see it.”
This is in reference to the fact that Jada is bald, like the super-hot bald Demi Moore in the 1997 film GI Jane.
At first, Will Smith lets out a big hearty laugh. But then he notices that his wife is not laughing. And this is because it isn’t a funny joke. Pinkett Smith has been quite open about her struggle with alopecia, which she revealed to the world via Instagram last year. She is going bald and has bravely and vulnerably embraced it, choosing to shave off her remaining hair.
Rock will later state that he did not know about Pinkett-Smith’s condition. (I guess he assumed it was a style choice?) If that was the case, then the joke was a compliment. When Pinkett Smith rolls her eyes and shoots Rock a withering glare, he does look slightly bewildered and a little nervous, and defends the joke saying “that was a nice one!” There is a chance that he is genuinely trying to compliment her in an attempt to make up for the last time he called out Pinkett Smith from the Oscars stage in 2016- that last time he was clearly being an a-hole.
Maybe Rock was trying to make amends but it fell dead flat. Only he could know his motives. Either way, he had not done his homework.
Back to Will laughing at the joke…
Will is laughing at the joke when he realises that his wife is not happy.
And then Will is no longer laughing.
He is out of his seat, striding toward the stage. Rock sees Jada’s look, and the big man comes toward him and utters, “uh oh.”
Nek minute, Smith slaps Chris Rock across the face.
Back in his seat, Will repeatedly yells at Chris, “keep my wife’s name out of your f*%$#ing mouth”.
Chris looks shocked and embarrassed, tries to defend himself again and then stands for a moment, clearly wondering if the show must go on…
I watched the scene with my older daughters who provided a lot of commentary and back story. (It’s so weird the things teenagers know!)
Even among my own extended family, we disagree significantly over whose actions were wrong today, and what should and shouldn’t have gone down in those moments. I really hope Will Smith comes to deeply regret his actions, and maybe he would have gotten there quickly had he been able to excuse himself to the bathroom, breathe for a moment in a toilet stall and process what had just happened. I bet he even wished he could have walked back into the room, whipped out the Neuralyzer he carried around in Men in Black, and had everyone forget what he had just done. But he didn’t have time, because as soon as there was an ad break, industry buddies were slapping him on the back for his chivalry and manliness. What a hero!. Show ‘em how a real man loves his wife!
This seems to be the way many people have responded, claiming that Will Smith was defending his wife’s honour in a way that a man should.
I think it needs to be made clear that whether his words were intended to harm Jada Pinkett Smith or not, the resulting physical and verbal abuse that Chris Rock received was absolutely not okay. Will Smith’s response was not a chivalrous act born out of love. It was toxic masculinity, showmanship even, and it came from a place of dysregulation and disorder. This was not, as Smith claimed in his acceptance speech later that night, “love making him do crazy things”. Too many abused women have heard that excuse from the mouths of men who claim to love them and yet beat them.
As Lisa Sharon Harper so eloquently put it, “violence can never be justified by love. Love is infinite; extending in all directions- even toward our enemies. Love humanises. Violence Dehumanises.”
My girls tell me that Jada Pinkett Smith speaks in awful ways about her husband in interviews. “It’s completely toxic, mum”, my 15-year-old tells me. The Smiths also make no secret of the fact that theirs is an open relationship- they have permitted each other to pursue sexual relationships while remaining married to each other. Clearly, it’s complicated. I think it is fairly obvious that there is so much more going on between Smith and Pinkett Smith, and that the Oscar event is a glimpse into a very disordered relationship. This is not love in action.
I venture to say that this is not love at all.