For the most part, the 94th Academy Awards ceremony, things went the way the Oscars normally go, To my pleasant surprise, the three-pronged attack of hosts Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes worked really well, with the telecast allowing them to shine as a group but also as individuals. CODA won the three awards it was nominated for, which is a big deal when you understand that those three awards were Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. There were moving speeches and celebrations of films that made a lot of sense (the 50th anniversary of The Godfather) and significantly less sense (the 28th anniversary of Pulp Fiction). There was a star-studded version of Encanto‘s “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” that was, at best, confusing. There were laughs and tears and too much cheese and shrimp consumed by one particular person watching from home. It was a typical Oscars night, and considering I think of the ceremony the way people think of the Super Bowl, that was a good thing.
And then there was the televised assault.
What happened between Will Smith and Chris Rock became the sole storyline that anyone cared about last night, which makes sense when you consider exactly just what happened. I’ve had a night’s sleep and some time to think about it, and two thoughts keep coming to my head. The first is that I’m genuinely surprised that something like this hasn’t happened before. The second is that I’m terrified for the ramifications of what this means.
For those of you unaware, here is a brief synopsis.
A little past the two-hour mark, Chris Rock steps onstage to present the award for Best Documentary. Rock, a former Oscars host and one of the most respected comedians of our time, was given time to tell a few jokes, so joke he did. He first mentioned how difficult it would be for Javier Bardem to win if his wife, Penelope Cruz, lost her category. Clearly, Chris Rock was unaware that the same situation also applied to Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst, another married couple, both of whom were nominated for their supporting roles in The Power Of The Dog, a film in which they play A MARRIED COUPLE.
Rock jokes that Bardem will be rooting for Will Smith to win, and then looks over at the King Richard-nominated actor, who was sitting with his wife, the gorgeous Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock jokes that he is excited to see Pinkett Smith in “GI Jane 2”, a reference to the fact that the actress has alopecia and is bald. Pinkett Smith clearly did not find the joke funny and glared Rock the fuck down. Will Smith, also, clearly did not find the joke funny and walked up onstage and OPEN-PALMED SLAP ROCK IN THE FUCKING FACE.
It was not very jiggy. Not very jiggy in the least.
My wife and I were a little behind watching the ceremony, as I work on Sundays then had to walk the dog when I got home as my wife bathed our son and put him to bed. As we watched this in bed, we both felt like it was some elaborate joke. We just assumed that the two were having fun with each other, until ABC cut the sound as Smith was yelling at Rock to “keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!”
To his credit, Rock soldiered on and presented Summer Of Soul with the Oscar, which provoked a gorgeous and moving acceptance speech from Questlove, the film’s director. Because I don’t think the speech got the attention it should have, I want to show it here:
Later, Smith would win the Best Actor for his performance in King Richard and give a speech in which he would say that God has put him on a path of love, which seems at odds with the events earlier. It would come out later that Rock would decline to press charges. That brings us all to right now.
Oddly, all the events of last night have me thinking of one of Hollywood’s all-time biggest names, despite the fact he has only been nominated for one Oscar, and it was for a rare supporting role: Tom Cruise.
Do y’all remember when Tom Cruise went on Oprah and talked about how he was in love with Katie Holmes? He was called a crazy man and the whole fucking world mocked him relentlessly.
Well, almost the whole world.
One thing I will remember was an interview I heard on the Never Not Funny podcast with comedian and author Greg Behrendt. Behrendt wrote the book He’s Just Not That Into You, which was a massive success that caused a giant press tour, including an appearance on Oprah. Speaking about it on Never Not Funny, Behrendt talked about how the environment of Oprah is absolutely insane. Hundreds of housewives are screaming and losing their minds at every little thing. The positive energy is amped up to about a bajillion. To Behrendt, it wasn’t Cruise’s couch-jumping that he found unusual; it’s that more people don’t act like him.
And that brings us back to Smith.
I get pumped up just watching the Oscars, so I cannot begin to fathom what it would mean to be there. And here is Will Smith, who everyone has all but guaranteed will be winning his first acting Oscar after a film career spanning decades. There’s no way he wasn’t an emotional rollercoaster; we saw it in his tear-filled speech. Let me make this clear: in no way am I condoning Smith’s actions. But, in his speech, he talked about how love makes you do crazy things.
You know what else does? Adrenalin.
I think we can all understand a man’s want to protect his wife. That being said, the amount of people I have seen on social media who are not only justifying, but endorsing, Smith’s behavior is wildly disturbing to me. And here’s why:
Last week, during the comedy show I co-produce, there was a table where one man was clearly babysitting a table of four very drunk women. Like, super-drunk. And talkative. The final comedian of the night had enough with their constant interruptions, and he told those women to “Shut the fuck up,” which was met by raucous applause by the audience, who had also had enough of that table. The combination of that comment plus the applause was enough for that table to get up and leave.
But let’s say they hadn’t.
Let’s say that one of those women had decided that the comedian had crossed a line and gone too far, and in order to defend the honor of her friends and herself, she went onstage and open-palmed slapped the comic. Would the people who are applauding Smith be approving of what that drunk audience member did? Now, I understand that there is a gigantic difference between what happened last night at the Oscars and the imaginary scenario I’m creating, but do you really think a table of people who just consumed their weight in vodka are the best people to understand that distinction?
You can say that Will Smith was right and just to be angry, and you’ll get no argument from me. But there were better ways to have dealt with it. If, upon accepting his award, he had made one comment about all of the Oscar nominations Chris Rock had (note: the answer is zero), the Fresh Prince would have fought fire with fire and come out of the exchange as the fast-thinking victor, and the man in the right. But Smith didn’t do that. He followed his base instincts and chose violence. And the approval I’m seeing online should worry all performers.
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: This piece has been edited since publication, as I accidentally confused Greg Behrendt with Greg Fitzsimmons. Thanks to Eric Rezendes for correcting me.)