#What Just Happened: The Will Smith – Chris Rock Drama Explained

Tylah Mofford

This year’s Academy Awards ceremony will be forever remembered, just not for the reasons it should be. Rather than forever remembering Coda’s Best Picture win, celebrating the wins of Jessica Chastain, Ariana Debose or Jane Campion, or even praising Will Smith on his performance in King Richard, Smith ensured the focus was turned to him for another reason.

By now, news of the Will Smith – Chris Rock drama is anything but new, with hundreds of memes already in circulation about the matter. However, amongst the jokes, the truth about what actually happened may get spun out of control so here I am to explain the sequence of events that led to the now infamous slap.

This year’s Academy Awards ceremony will be forever remembered, just not for the reasons it should be

The History

Despite being relatively cordial with each other through their early careers, Chris Rock and The Smiths (Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith) have had several encounters which suggest the events of this year’s Oscars weren’t as shocking as you may first think.

Rock has a history of making ‘playful’ digs towards Jada Pinkett-Smith; on The Chris Rock Show in 1997, host Rock chose to end their conversation with “You’re not going to believe this – Jada Pinkett, you win a bottle of champagne. You know why? Because you just did an interview without mentioning the name Will Smith.” Fast-forwarding to the 2016 Oscars Ceremony, notably boycotted by several stars including Will and Jada, Rock once again targeted Pinkett-Smith by saying “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited!”

Such comments in the name of ‘comedy’ reveal that Rock’s ‘joke’ at this year’s ceremony was certainly not out-of-the-blue. From this, perhaps we can see why Will Smith reached the end of his tether? Was it his tether to come to the end of in the first place? I’ll let you decide…

The Joke

The ‘joke’ made by Chris Rock was as follows: “Jada, I love you. ‘G.I. Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it”. What exactly is wrong with this comment? Several things.

Firstly, why was Rock commenting on Jada at all? In his role as Best Documentary presenter, there was no need to bring Will or Jada into his introduction. Neither of the two were nominees for that award and were simply enjoying the show the same as any other star present. This situation, paired with their past, leads us to question what draws Rock to repeatedly use Jada as the butt of his jokes?

Next up, the subject matter of the joke. G.I. Jane comes from a 1997 Ridley Scott film of the same name and features Jane, the main character, sporting a shaved head. Rock attempted to liken Pinkett-Smith’s shaved head to the character of G.I. Jane to generate laughs, but failed to recognise the deeper implications of this reference. Jada Pinkett-Smith’s shaved head is as a result of a medical condition – alopecia, therefore Chris Rock’s attempt to make a joke out of this was insensitive.

A wider discussion must be had about degrading women for their appearance

It has recently circulated that Rock was unaware of Pinkett-Smith’s alopecia when making the joke, however she has been public about her battle with the condition on various social media platforms, therefore Rock’s statement seems unlikely.

The final issue I have with this ‘joke’ is how Rock targets a woman’s appearance for laughs. Arguably, this is less specific to Chris Rock and more a statement regarding comedy in general, but there was no need to draw attention to Jada’s looks in this situation. A wider discussion must be had about degrading women for their appearance, but that should be explored further another time.

The Slap

Following Rock’s attempt at a joke, Will Smith approached the stage, saying nothing, and slapped Chris Rock. He then returned to his seat and began shouting at Rock, exclaiming “keep my wife’s name out your f***ing mouth”.

Given Rock’s history of using Jada as the subject of many a ‘joke’ over the years, we can understand how Will, and Jada, would be aggravated by Rock doing it yet again. The insensitivity of the comment, as discussed above, also warrants a reaction – but not this sort of reaction.

Smith fundamentally failed to consider the consequences of his reaction to Rock’s comment

The issue here is that Will Smith chose violence – and on an extremely public stage at that. The Oscars, arguably the most prestigious event of the year for Hollywood, was not the setting for such an outburst. Why? Because it is a live televised event watched by thousands around the world; it is a time to celebrate filmmaking at its ‘highest class’; the audience is filled with some of the most influential people in the industry; and it was meant to be Will Smith’s night of success. Smith fundamentally failed to consider the consequences of his reaction to Rock’s comment. The repercussions of his actions will forever be tied to Smith: rather than remembering this night as one of glory for having won his first Academy Award, the impulsive act of physically assaulting and shouting at Rock will never be forgotten.

The Speech

The other extremely memorable moment of the night came when Will Smith won the Academy Award following his interaction with Chris Rock. There has been much debate over whether Smith should have won the award after what happened, with some believing the Academy should have revoked the award due to his behaviour. In my opinion, Smith was granted the award for his acting performance in King Richard, rather than for him as a person. And if you strip him of his award, then you risk opening a can of worms into the past about who should keep their awards or not due to personal behaviour. Either way, Smith won the award for ‘Best Actor’ on the night and attempted to use his acceptance speech to address his earlier actions.

Smith attempts to construct a speech through his emotion, clearly choosing each word carefully knowing it would be scrutinised. Interestingly, he never directly addresses Chris Rock; Smith apologises to The Academy and his fellow nominees but not to Chris Rock in that moment.

Was Will Smith right to ‘protect his family’ in this way, or was it an act of toxic masculinity?

Smith deems himself a “protector of [his] family”, suggesting he took action against Rock to protect his wife from his hurtful words. This, however, simply highlights the toxic masculinity still circulating today. In that moment, did Will Smith slapping Chris Rock really come to the aid of Jada? Did his physical assault benefit anyone? Yet again, a wider conversation must be had on this matter: was Will Smith right to ‘protect his family’ in this way, or was it an act of toxic masculinity?

The Aftermath

Since the awards on the 28th March 2022, there have been several updates on this matter. The Academy publicly renounced violence via Twitter, stating “The Academy does not condone violence of any form”. Many questions have been posed in response to this, such as why did they watch and broadcast the act of violence and subsequently award Smith following his actions? Was there any ‘right’ was of handling this? 

Will then issued this statement via Instagram, apologising to Chris Rock directly and admitting his poor choice of action on the night:

Chris Rock is yet to publicly respond to this statement or the situation. 

Various other stars have given their thoughts on the situation including Jim Carrey, Liam Payne, and many more. There is an ongoing debate as to who was in the wrong: Will Smith, Chris Rock, or both. 

More recently, Will Smith has resigned from The Academy, stating “my actions at the 94th Academy Awards presentation were shocking, painful, and inexcusable”. We must await to hear if any further action will be taken by The Academy, and see whether Smith’s career will survive this seismic event. 

The point of this article was not to take sides but to present the information on what happened. I leave it to you to decide which actions were right and which were wrong. Importantly, remember that neither ‘side’ must be entirely to blame; actions on both parts led to this moment which will unfortunately go down in history. This debate will be forever ongoing as there is no one correct answer. For me, the most important take-away from this night is how this explosion of emotion overshadowed what could have been an exceptional night of celebration for incredible films. Next time, can we stick to the fictional drama on-screen? 

Tylah Mofford

Featured Image courtesy of Budiey via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In article video 1 courtesy of jadapinkettsmith via instagram.com. No changes were made to this video.

In article video 2 courtesy of The Telegraph via youtube.com. No changes were made to this video.

In article video 3 courtesy of The Telegraph via youtube.com. No changes were made to this video.

In article image courtesy of willsmith via instagram.com. No changes were made to these images. 

For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.

EntertainmentFilm & TV

Leave a Reply