At the annual awards ceremony that celebrates the highest honors in filmmaking, millions of viewers and audience members were stunned by a moment many said not only overshadowed the night, but will also leave a lasting stain on multiple Hollywood careers.
While on stage to present during the 94th Academy Awards, Chris Rock, 57, made a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith, 50, saying “Jada I love you, ‘G.I. Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it.”
The comment, which seemed to reference Jada’s short haircut, received awkward, lukewarm laughter from the audience. It appeared to make her uncomfortable and irritated as cameras captured her rolling her eyes from her seat.
The actress and host of Facebook’s Red Table Talk, has been open about struggling with hair loss for years and revealed photos of herself bald last year after announcing that her alopecia had progressed.
The disease develops when the body attacks its own hair follicles, which can cause hair loss anywhere on the body, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Will Smith, 53, who appeared to chuckle initially, clearly was not feeling the joke at his wife’s expense. The decorated actor walked up on stage and slapped Rock across the face before returning to his seat and yelling at him to “leave my wife’s name out of your f**king mouth.”
Rock responded, “Wow dude, it was a ‘G.I. Jane’ joke,” but Smith repeated his demand to leave Jada alone. It is unclear at this time if Rock knew about Jada’s condition prior to making the joke on stage.
The stand-up comedian, who was also shocked by the ordeal, kept his composure and remained on stage. Although stumbling over some words, he continued on with the show to award Questlove the Best Documentary Oscar for “Summer of Soul.”
It was reported during the commercial break immediately following the incident that Denzel Washington, Tyler Perry and Bradley Cooper were all seen talking with Smith off to the side, while others consoled Jada. The couple eventually sat back down together at their table in front of the theater.
Unfortunately, the apparently unscripted moment occurred not long before Smith won his very first Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance in “King Richard.”
In an emotional acceptance speech, he apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees. He also added: “Now, I know to do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse, you gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you and you gotta smile and you gotta pretend like that’s OK.”
Smith ended by thanking the Academy and chuckling as he said, “I hope you will have me back.”
The organization has since released a Tweet, saying: “The Academy does not condone violence of any form. Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.”
The Academy does not condone violence of any form.
Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) March 28, 2022
However, some called the Academy out, calling its tweet hypocritical because Smith went on the receive his honor without any visible consequences during the show.
The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement Sunday night, confirming that it was aware of the incident.
“LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program. The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report,” the department told CNN.
Following the incident, the world erupted with Will Smith and Chris Rock becoming trending topics almost immediately.
Thousands of social media users, including celebrities, shared their opinions about the incident online. Some defended Rock and were disappointed that he was a victim of a physical assault, while others thought the joke was a low-blow and uncalled for.
The Smith’s son, Jaden took to Twitter to say: “And That’s How We Do It.”
And That’s How We Do It
— Jaden (@jaden) March 28, 2022
In a series of tweets, rapper Nicki Minaj said: “I love Chris Rock. I don’t think he would’ve made that joke had he known what Jada recently shared- but between him & the whole team @ the #Oscars you mean to tell me not ONE of y’all heard this woman just share this heartbreaking story? #ComeOnSon… Imagine what it must feel like to be losing your hair to the point where you have to shave it bald. You think that’s easy to deal with for anyone? You don’t think she’s cried about that many times? 2022 y’all gon have to see these men about those jokes you made about their wives.”
You just got to witness in real time what happens in a man’s soul when he looks over to the woman he loves & sees her holding back tears from a “little joke” at her expense. This is what any & every real man feels in that instant. while y’all seeing the joke he’s seeing her pain
— Nicki Minaj (@NICKIMINAJ) March 28, 2022
Didn’t know until just this moment about @jadapsmith having Alopecia. She’s wonderful and great. So is @willsmith — which we all know. They’re both phenomenal. But you do NOT do what Will did in that setting. Go backstage and handle that shit if you must. Horrible look!
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) March 28, 2022
Marc Lamont Hill also shared multiple thoughts on Instagram, acknowledging both men as being in the wrong, but ultimately shocked that the Oscars allowed Will to sit back down, finish the show, and give a speech after slapping a presenter.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star has since issued an official apology to Chris Rock in an Instagram post.
“Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally. I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness…”
Smith also went on to apologize to the Academy, the Williams Family and the King Richard Family.
“I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us,” he wrote before ending with admitting he’s a “work in progress.”
With the award ceremony airing on live TV, the physical altercation between Chris Rock and Will Smith, who are both legends on screen, will be discussed for a while.
While disappointing for many in the entertainment industry, along with fans, the incident is opening up doors for broader conversations around mental health, sensitivities around comedy, protecting Black women and more.
Rock has not yet addressed or released an official statement regarding the slap since Sunday night.
What are your thoughts on the moment and how it shaped the 2022 Oscars? Does the slap change how you see Will Smith? Does the joke change how you see Chris Rock?