A stinging embarrassment

The Academy should have done more to immediately condemn Will Smith’s actions

Will+Smith+slaps+Chris+Rock+at+the+Oscars+on+March+27.+COURTESY+OF+THE+NEW+YORK+TIMES

Will Smith slaps Chris Rock at the Oscars on March 27. COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES

While Chris Rock may not have gotten the knee-slapping response he wanted at the Oscars, he did receive a slap to the face from Will Smith. 

As two of the biggest names in entertainment, most immediately assumed this was some kind of skit. However, once the audio was cut and the camera’s panned back to Smith’s face yelling, “Keep my wife’s name out your f****** mouth,” it was established that this was not some kind of put on. 

In addition to the harm he caused towards Rock, Smith is continuing the portrayal of toxic masculinity by using violence as a response. Many are painting this event as romantic or sexy, defending Smith’s unacceptable actions with love. Smith even claimed that “love will make you do crazy things.” I doubt that defense will hold up in court. Luckily for Smith, Rock did not press charges. 

This idea of “protecting your family” is extremely flawed, as it only drives the ideology that women need men to protect them and that they are unable to stand up for themselves. There is no reason Pinkett couldn’t have said something to Rock if she found the joke offensive. Tying violence and love together will never work and often result in abuse. We have been taught that violence is a power indicator and that it proves a man to be “tough” or “macho.” This toxic masculinity was displayed by Smith, as he felt the need to defend his wife by exerting power over Rock via a slap to the face. 

Though just having been assaulted by Smith, one of the nominees for Best Actor, Rock kept his cool and proceeded to announce the nominees for the next category. Meanwhile, Smith returned to sit beside his wife with a smile on his face, unphased by his own actions. The Academy failed to uphold their values, as they did not immediately condemn Smith’s violent actions and allowed him to stay in the audience for the remainder of the show.

Smith later went on to win Best Actor for “King Richard,” giving a teary-eyed speech that compared his actions to those of Richard Williams, the character he plays in his movie that had just won, claiming to be a “fierce defender of his family.” In his speech, he apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees. He ended his speech by saying he “hope[s] the Academy invites [him] back.”

The Academy released a statement following the award show, clarifying that they do not condone violence of any form and apologizing to both Rock and viewers. The Academy even came out with a statement claiming that they asked Smith to leave after attacking Rock, but he refused. 

You would assume the Academy has some control over who is and who isn’t allowed at the Oscars. If a seatfiller had gone up on stage and assaulted the presenter, they would have immediately been taken out, likely by force. The Academy most definitely could have done more in removing Smith from the event. He shouldn’t have received any special treatment, despite his glamorous Hollywood reputation– violence is violence.

After much controversy, the Academy came to the decision to ban Smith from all Academy events, such as the Oscars, for 10 years. Smith accepted this ban following his resignation from the Academy with no pushback. While I do believe the Academy could have done more in the moment, I think that this punishment is fitting, as Smith physically assaulted a man and has proven himself undeserving of such privileges.

While the joke may have been in poor taste, these actors and actresses are surrounded by humor every day and should be more than experienced at handling a bad joke. There is no reason that this altercation couldn’t have been handled privately and with words rather than violence.

There is no excuse for violence. It is one of the first things we are taught in elementary school– keep your hands to yourself. Once you bring violence into a situation, every valid argument you may have had is lost. Smith was trying to have his hero moment, but just ended up making a fool of himself.