You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, we’ve all seen it. Unless you live with Patrick Star, we all know about the highlight of this past Sunday’s Oscars: Will Smith slapping Chris Rock in front of millions during the globally televised event. When I first heard about the slap, I was a little surprised, but I did not need to drop everything to look it up. After all, there was debate as to the authenticity of the slap, considering this would not be the first example of a “show” being put on for attention. So I guess the LAPD is a paid actor?
However, many, and I mean many, were quick to post memes. Nearly every instagram story I opened had posted either a meme or as they say, “a hot take.”
The basic rundown was that Rock made a joke about Jada Smith’s lack of hair due to a condition she dealt with in secret for years. This led to Will coming up on stage and slapping, or as instagram comments say, “rocking” Chris. As expected, there comes debate about who was in the right and wrong, but it is not as simple as Black and White. Those who side with Will say that Rock “crossed the line” and that “street rules” were applied. On the contrary, many say that Smith “overreacted”, and that not only was it meant as a joke, but Rock apparently did not know of Jada’s struggle. People also say that there were better ways for Will to have dealt with it. The way I see it, there was definitely a better way for Will to have dealt with the situation. He could have voiced his opinions in private or public, but instead made sure that the joke was to be remembered.
The interesting part about the whole situation is not the situation itself, but the reactions. This warrants a much more deeper analysis of the scene at hand. Rock is on stage poking fun at the audience when he jokingly says “Jada, I love ya, GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see it, aight?” For those who don’t know, GI Jane features a female protagonist who shaved her head, so the joke makes sense. It’s also important to note that Jada went public with her Alopecia diagnosis in 2018. Alopecia is an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss, which is much more likely to affect African-American females. She even laughed during the reveal, which I suppose is all she can do about it considering the current lack of a cure. Even Will found the joke to be funny, but Jada’s reaction pointed to the contrary. It is when she gives him the same look that things shift and Will slaps Rock, before shouting “Leave my wife’s name out your f—-ing mouth. Well, at least he took the hit like a champ. He even proceeded to make a joke out of the slap and declined to press charges.
Now to get into the entanglement of ideas. According to an instagram post by Black model, American author Glennon Doyle in a tweet rejects the notion that violence is proof of love, citing said idea as a culprit behind domestic violence. That prompted a response which called into question Dolye’s stance, saying that White people do not believe in the concept that “Violence is never the answer,” referring to a troubled White history of violence and oppression. The unknown user also claims that Doyle’s intention with the tweet is to “…have the moral high ground and correct Black people…” which is also apparently what all Whites strive to do. Not only that, but something which I wasn’t aware of, was that Amy Schumer apparently made a joke about being a White woman calling the cops on Blacks, which many note in addressing the hypocrisy and irony surrounding Doyle and the Oscars. To keep it short, Hart summarizes the cadence of the reply with one sentence : “White people—keep it cute and silent on Will, Chris, and Jada”.
Now for another tweet which left me scratching my head: “Will Smith defends his wife on national TV with violence and gets praised. Parents defend their children at school board meetings with words and get labeled as domestic terrorists.” The caption of the post went as far to describe it as the “best take I’ve seen so far.” A quick Google search explains further, as last year, school board meetings fueled by parents being unhappy regarding critical race theory, the core principle of which is that race is a social construct. This lead to a letter from the National School Board Association writing to Joe Biden for action against those threatening the school board and faculty, in which parents were called domestic terrorists. This tweet tries to focus on a sort of double standard, but what is occurring is a comparison of two fairly different issues.
Yet another Twitter user argues that it is “beyond offensive for Chris Rock, as the black male host of a historically and predominantly white awards show honoring talent within an equally white industry, to get a chuckle out of his audience by making a black woman’s hair loss and autoimmune disorder the butt of a joke.” This account of the slap is worth considering because it introduces the concept of policing of Black hair, as well as all the historical and political aspects related to hair. After all, I do recall reported instances of Black students forcibly getting their hair cut, or facing disciplinary consequences because of their hair.
Apparently some have gone as far to call it “the Oscar’s ugliest moment,” which is nothing short of a reach. In 1973, Marlon Brando, who is said to be one of the 20th century’s most influential actors, refused his award in protest of poor representation of Native Americans in film. In Brando’s place was sent Native American activist and author Sacheen Littlefeather to represent him. This led to a contest of boos and cheers from the crowd. The worst part of it was that John Wayne had to be held back by six guards to prevent him from attacking Littlefeather. In addition, Clint Eastwood even mocked their genuine intentions. When people say that Will Smith slapping Chris Rock was the ugliest moment of the Oscars, it goes to show that not only is there a misdirection from actual problems like lack of representation and misrepresentation which are still rampant today, but if your people or messages are not desired, then they will not be embraced.
With all being said and done, the slap stole the show, and created a conversation about some problems of society with many viewpoints and implications. This begs the question, would the joke have gotten the amount of criticism it did without the slap? After all, it did actually make it easier to overlook the actual accomplishments that were made that night. Samuel L. Jackson got his first Oscar, Troy Kotsur became the first deaf man to win an Oscar for acting and Jane Campion was the third woman to ever win ‘Best Director’ just to name a few. Also, while Smith did issue a public apology, it may also be a safe bet for Rock to apologize to Jada. However, none of this changes that the Oscars are still a predominantly White space, and only through time and effort will more and more minorities make their cultural mark and create a legacy bigger than the slap that was heard around the world.