The last Oscars could have been a celebration of firsts 2
Will Smith hits comedian Chris Rock during a live broadcast of the 94th annual Academy Awards. Photo by Etienne Laurent, Shutterstock Out/EPA-EFE

OPINION: The Oscars could have been a celebration of doors pushed open, of many forward steps

So much have been said about the Will Smith-slapping-Chris-Rock incident at the Oscars. Here are a few meaningful insights we encountered
ANCX Staff | Mar 29 2022

The world continues to reel from the shock of the now very famous smacking incident on Hollywood’s biggest night. After Best Actor nominee, and later in the evening Best Actor winner, Will Smith went up the stage to strike comedian Chris Rock with his right hand, people from across the globe took to social media to process their thoughts, form an analysis, express their opinion. “The way people are reacting, it’s like Will Smith invaded Ukraine,” said someone on Instagram. 

Many condemned Smith’s stunt, including the Academy—violence is never okay, they said. But wait, somebody told a joke about a black woman’s medical condition, isn’t that a good enough excuse to finally show people not everything can be made fun of? And it’s his wife, too (despite their unconventional arrangement) —they are likely each other’s closest confidant, they’ve most likely shared many private moments dealing with her struggle of hair loss. 

The cast and crew celebrate after 'CODA'
The cast and crew of Oscar Best Picture 'CODA'. Photo by Etienne Laurent, EPA-EFE

“If anyone made a joke at [my partner] Gold Soon’s expense, and in such a public way, I would have gone up on that stage, taken his microphone, and roasted him alive, getting all up in his face, right in front of millions of viewers,” said the theatre actor Jamie Wilson on a Facebook post. “I would have been clever, funny, charming, scathing, and absolutely merciless, and I'd totally have beaten him at his own standup game. And I would then proceed to speak about all the wonderful qualities that the love of my life has, and how that without her, I wouldn't be up here at all.” 

“If you can have the transcendence, strength of character, and equanimity of a Buddhist monk when your loved one is getting publicly dissed, when she did nothing to deserve/solicit it, hats off to you. But that's just talk. Let's see what you'll do if that REALLY happened,” said the writer Alya Honasan on her Facebook wall. 

Another Facebook post said condemning Smith means allowing “space in our realities for verbal assault against the image of sick women.” The message ended with a reminder that, first and foremost, there was someone who issued the provocation which led to the violence. Before the violence, “there was verbal assault on a sick black woman.”

While there were opinions that totally understood what Smith did, there were those who read nothing more than “toxic masculinity” and a display of entitlement in what the actor exhibited. While he broke down in tears accepting his Best Actor trophy later in the ceremony, essentially explaining in his speech what took over him—his protector persona—there is also a video of Smith going around where he’s seen celebrating in a party, and being celebrated, leading a group in singing along to a hit dance song of his as he held on to his Oscar trophy. 


A post shared by The Academy (@theacademy)

To some, the image in the video might come off as Hollywood reverting to its stereotypical vacuous self, too quick to forget, unable to grasp the full significance of what happened in between the costume changes and the picture-taking and the party-hopping. To the famed art writer Jerry Saltz of The New Yorker who posted the video on his Instagram, it was Hollywood being “the most hermetically sealed industry in America,” its citizens not unlike Republicans who avoid saying bad things about Trump “because they like to be around power and celebrity.” 

But more importantly, for the Pulitzer Prize winner, last night was a missed opportunity. “This should have been among the most important nights in the fight for the rights of the disabled,” he wrote. “That conversation has been preempted.” He is talking, of course, of the film CODA winning the evening’s top prize: the Best Picture Oscar. The film about the struggles of a deaf family and it’s one hearing member should have been the talk of the whole world, along with its message of hope and love, of inclusivity and acceptance, of great possibilities in humanity. 

Instead, the world is talking about “old Hollywood,” not its iconic glamour and style but the sins of its past. “We should have been able to hear the sound that lifts seagulls off the water,” lamented Saltz. “But this clairvoyant sound and power has been drowned out.” 

Meanwhile, the author of a book called “I Wish I Knew,” Donna Ashworth, took issue with the suggestion that Smith, who was shown laughing at Rock’s GI Jane joke early on, basically just took the cue from his wife’s displeased reaction—as if to say she made Smith climb up that stage and hit Rock. 

“We need to stop this narrative that women ‘coerce ’, ‘manipulate’ and ‘incite’ men to do ‘crazy things for love.’” Ashworth said on a Facebook post now with 18K shares. “That’s what Will said later as he accepted his Oscar, ‘love makes you do crazy things’.

No Will, it does not. 

Anger makes you do crazy things. 

Jealousy, greed, bitterness and mental health issues can all contribute to that…

But love, no.

Love is peace, acceptance, accountability. 

And never comes with violence.” 

Smith issued an apology earlier today, admitting his behavior on the Oscar stage to be unacceptable and inexcusable, that the joke on Jada’s condition was too much for him to bear “and I reacted emotionally.” He apologized to Rock, the Academy, the audience, and the family of Venus and Serena Williams, whose lives and struggles were the basis of the film that won for Smith his Oscar. “I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us,” he said in his apology. 

The 94th Oscars could indeed have been a celebration of groundbreaking achievements: CODA star Troy Kotsur became the first deaf man to win an Oscar; Encanto’s Yvette Merino the first Latina producer to win an Oscar; Ariana DeBose, Best Supporting Actress for her performance in West Side Story, the first openly queer woman of color to win an acting Oscar. 

Instead, all of the applause for those forward steps got drowned out by a smacking incident sparked by an unfunny, insensitive joke. 

“I think the whole incident with Will Smith is the perfect capper to an awards season that saw the Academy acting ashamed of recognizing actual creative achievement,” said our favorite film critic Andrew Paredes in a Facebook post. “From demoting eight categories out of the live telecast, to instituting a fan favorite category, to getting random athletes to introduce the clip package for Bond’s 60th anniversary, Oscar was acting like the art kid trying to fit in with the cool kids, denying that he was there to honor great cinema. Well, now Oscar actually has something to be ashamed of.”