Will Smith and Chris Rock Oscar Night Debacle© GettyImages

The Real Problem With The Will Smith and Chris Rock Oscar Night Debacle That No One Is Talking About

Salva Mubarak
Senior Features Writer

There’s something to be said about the eagerness with which everyone ran to their nearest electronic device to express their opinions about ‘Slapgate’ at the Oscars yesterday. In case you’re one of the luckiest people alive at the moment and have been living under a rock for the past few months, then let me summarise for you what happened at the Oscars this year. During the 2022 Oscars broadcast, comedian Chris Rock acted as a presenter for a part of the show. Right before announcing the categories and its nominees, Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith’s alopecia-induced baldness.

“Jada, I love you-G.I. Jane 2, I can’t wait to see it,” he ‘joked’, prompting an eye roll from Pinkett-Smith, who was present in the audience. Her husband, actor Will Smith, didn’t react so, well, non-violently. He made his way on-stage and slapped Rock across the face and then made his way back to his seat as if nothing had happened. Oh, he also shouted “Keep my wife’s name out of your f*cking mouth” at Rock from his seat, presumably because of how many times Rock has publicly joked about Pinkett-Smith without any provocation. Smith later went on to apologise for his action during his acceptance speech for winning the Best Actor award for King Richard. He also released a statement online apologising to Chris Rock and everyone who witnessed the scene (basically the whole world, including my father who showed me a three-minute long WhatsApp video analysing everyone’s reaction to ‘The Slap’ last night).

To nobody’s surprise, the Internet has largely been divided over the issue. “Will Smith going onstage to slap Chris Rock means the end of stand up comedy as we know it”, exclaims one group, while the other defends Smith’s actions by crying, “Will Smith was only defending his wife and we need more men like him.”

First off, let me just take a moment to say, no thank you. We do not need more men. Period. Men have created enough problems around the world as it is. Why just men? I think we don’t need any more people. People are the worst. I think Thanos was onto something.

Where was I?

Yes, the world is divided yet again and thousands of freelance writers are coming up with hot takes right this moment to grab those elusive Page Views. What’s new?

There’s nothing new about the sudden influx of memes based on the key moment where Smith slapped Rock. The fact that the two remain trending in a world where a devastating war is happening a few countries apart and polar bears are dying is also not novel.

This is not an examination of ableism or toxic masculinity, although it’s alarming how easily some people have dismissed alopecia being a ‘legitimate disability’. It’s not even about stand-up comedy being under threat now that Smith has apparently broken the dam for hecklers and haters to come up on stage and punch a comedian on the throat for telling a bad joke. It’s about the fact that people need to calm down.

Director Judd Apatow was particularly agitated post-Slap and took to Twitter to express that Rock could have died from the slap. I’m not going to lie, my first reaction after seeing the now-deleted Tweet was to laugh. Die? From a b*tch slap? Please. I’ve suffered way worse for not drawing Saturn in the correct place for my sixth grade Science homework. Nobody’s going to die from a slap (which, side note, deserves to be unpacked in a whole different think piece). But then as I scrolled past the many Tweets and articles about what happened, I thought “Was the slap necessary?”

It was interesting to see the many responses to that question. Some claimed that Smith acted like a “true man” and stepped up to defend his wife when she was being mocked for something traumatic in front of all her peers. Some put it in the same category as the viral ‘punching/slapping Nazis’ videos, in that it’s not necessary, but it’s definitely satisfying to watch a jerk face immediate consequences of their actions. But that begs the question: Is what Rock said on the same level as a neo-Nazi expressing their problematic and dangerous views in public?

Rock punching down with his joke about Jada’s baldness was a bad joke, definitely one that shouldn’t have made the final cut for the monologue. Just a few months ago, the Internet was hotly debating, and largely defending, Dave Chapelle’s right to make transphobic jokes on a public platform. Those same people are now fighting for Smith’s right to defend his wife by slapping Rock for telling a bad joke attacking her on a public platform. Do you see the issue here? The issue has evolved from more than just being about what happened on stage at the Oscars, to the way we react to these issues.

Since the issue involves two African-American men and an African-American woman, it wasn’t long before the discourse around it brought out the racists—under the garb of freedom of speech and being edgy and cheeky online, of course.

Somen Mishra, one of the top executives at Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, Tweeted “For the longest time, they kept saying #OscarSoWhite (sic) now you know why that was so good. *runs far far away and hides*”. When called out for being racist and problematic, Mishra adopted the “You didn’t see the full context” stance, followed by “I’m blocking anyone who is calling me a racist because Taylor Swift told us that haters gonna hate, hate hate, and I’m a privileged, grown man who refuses to face the consequences of my own actions.”

There were also some who made tired, sexist jokes about men and their emasculation after getting married. On the other hand, the defenders of Smith and their claims of him “acting like a real man would” and “he just acted out of the love he has for his wife” are also kind of chilling. It hits very close to the Kabir Singh-school of thought that states ‘If done out of love, then it’s not violence or abuse’. Especially in a country where domestic abuse cases, honor killings, and marital rapes are still very much a reality.

In the same vein, there have been many who have requested, nay demanded!, that the Academy takes back Smith’s Best Actor Oscar in light of his shameful act on such a prestigious stage. If the Academy starts taking into account all the ‘shameful behaviour’ by award winners (Read: Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Casey Affleck-to name a few), then who would be left with an Oscar?

Before you come at me for resorting to ‘what about-ism’, calm down. Try and rationally think of the stakes here. Smith went on to win a major award just a few minutes after going on-stage to slap someone for telling an off-colour joke. Aside from getting slapped on stage, and it was not a life-threatening slap as Apatow would have you believe, what else did Rock lose?

These are rich, privileged, and powerful folks who will continue to work and make more money in an hour than your two month’s rent for your apartment. Does that take away from the fact that they’re humans despite being super rich individuals? No. But they’re not going to lose sleep over the fact that you think their jokes or reactions were “not in the spirit of Oscars night”. Nor are they going to read any of your conspiracy therories where you delve into why Smith was laughing at the joke before getting up to slap Rock. So calm down and maybe work on not treating opinions on the Internet and social media as the only parameters with which you view the world.

Chris Rock’s subpar joke at the expense of Jada Smith’s alopecia-induced baldness was unnecessary and ableist, and Will Smith going up to slap Rock for making the joke should not be glorified as a ‘man defending what’s his’. These two statements can co-exist and that’s precisely what the Internet needs to understand.

Getting angry over pop culture things is not bad, but there needs to be a point where we ask ourselves: Why are we not getting more angry about the fact that Netflix has a show where people make cakes that look like non-cake objects and people guess whether that thing is a cake or not while SNL’s Mikey Day stabs things with a sword?

TL;DR: The Internet needs to calm down and you need to step away from your phone to go smell the roses or whatever.