Will Smith slapping Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars Sunday night is now infamously known as “the slap heard around the world”. / Phot Courtesy of ABC News

Shaun Lucas

In 2020, I wrote a piece about Kanye West’s presidential campaign, tying his antics into the fact that celebrities live strange lives. This was during a time when I saw a turning point from celebrities being idolized to being criticized for trying to appear as if they were “just like 

us,” all while sitting in their mansions mid-pandemic. As I said two years ago, famous people are not just like us, shown by how many of their deeds would lead to an average person being thrown in prison.

Fortunately, West’s actions of late have fewer people laughing and more calling for serious charges to be placed on him for potentially putting his peers in danger. However, the 2022 Oscars ceremony held this weekend proved that if a celebrity is charismatic enough, and not held under the same “sporadic” lens as West, they can still get away with questionable actions.

After award presenter and comedian Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair loss condition, Alopecia, Jada’s husband Will Smith walked on stage and slapped Rock. Will Smith then took his seat, telling Rock to, “keep my wife’s name out your f*cking mouth.”

The night of the show, I saw the slap through a video my friend sent me. The morning after, the slap was all I continued to see on my social media feeds. Funny enough, I found out about the slap before I found out that Smith won “best actor” for his role in “King Richard,” his first-ever Oscar award, per NPR. In terms of the Oscar’s prestige in recent years, it may be a bad sign when people are much more interested in something an award winner did over anything regarding the awards themselves. 

Upon accepting his Oscar later that night, Smith states early in his speech: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people,” Smith said. “Now I know, to do what we do, you’ve got to be able to take abuse. You got to be able to have people talk crazy about you.” 

He also apologized to the academy and other nominees, with no mention of the man he smacked. 

Oddly enough, Smith did not seem to have the need to protect his wife as he was seen on camera laughing at Rock’s joke before the attack. In general, the Smith family seems magnetic to weird interactions, such as when Jaden Smith at age 15 asked to be legally emancipated from his parents, admitted by Will in a 2021 interview with People.

If you think Rock’s joke was distasteful, that is understandable; what is not understandable is how Smith walked on stage, struck another actor, and then proceeded to sit and watch the rest of the show, let alone accept one of the Oscar’s most prestigious awards, without security being shown to even interact with him. Even if the joke was in poor taste, Rock was hired to do a job and was not protected from even a minor altercation. 

I have no doubts the situation would have been much different if the attacker was not of the status of Will Smith. Smith himself likely understood this, given the fact he chose to confront Rock in such a drastic way on a public broadcast rather than in private.

The Oscars responded on Twitter hours after the ceremony with a statement including the phrase, “The Academy does not condone violence of any form.” Of course, their disapproval of violence does not mean they will retract an award given to someone who commits an assault on their stage, let alone condemn heinous people they have celebrated in the past such as Harvey Weinstein. An investigation is also being initiated for the incident, per Voice of America (VOA).

Smith also apologized again on his Instagram, this time apologizing to Rock directly. As a classmate said in my class when discussing the apology: “Yeah, the apology seemed genuine, but so did that slap.”  

Is Smith going to face any consequences for his actions, or will his legacy from shows and movies people loved in the 90s carry him through another controversy? I will say, it is strange to see how such vulnerable moments from Smith’s life often get broadcasted for people to simply make memes out of it. Then again, perhaps I would feel worse for him if he did not coin himself as a “vessel of love” the same night he slapped a comedian for telling a joke.