The Slap Heard ‘Round the Oscars

At first I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a joke. I’m sure a lot of people did. But it wasn’t. Two friends, who’ve been friends for decades, who’ve occupied the same rare air at the top of the Hollywood food chain, who’ve been together through children’s births, and divorces, and box office flops, and outrageous success, had a physical altercation on stage at the Oscars.


Just. Wow.

Now, I gotta say, I’m not terribly invested in award shows. I wouldn’t have even known it was Oscar night had I not seen the different dresses on my Instagram feed. I went to sleep none the wiser, having not watched a single frame of the program.

But when I woke up this morning, and learned that Will Smith, who I’ve enjoyed in so many heartwarming films — including King Richard, the Oscar he collected after an entire career of waiting — slapped Chris Rock in the face on TV, in front of the world, I was torn.

I can’t say definitively that he should not have done it. I have too much empathy for him. Way too much. But I can say that Chris Rock shouldn’t have made that joke.

 My boy Len was like, how we are gonna get over the stigma of alopecia if we can’t make jokes about it? Ok, noted. I hadn’t considered that. But getting over a stigma for a physical and psychological condition doesn’t need to happen on Jada Pinkett Smith’s back.

These two men were friends.

But that’s what happens at the Oscars, Len argued — we like to debate; please note at the end of our 30-minute conversation, no punches were thrown — that’s the status quo. Every comedian does that. If you sit in the front row, you get roasted.

But should that be status quo? And since when is status quo a reason to excuse bad behavior?

These two men were friends, and they’re men. That’s important here.

Will has been through a lot in the past year or so. Cuckolded before the entire world by a needy, attention-seeking, adulterous wife who couldn’t keep her mouth shut about an affair with a younger man, a minor musical talent who apparently had some mental issues, and he never said a word. He held his peace. In fact, he still went on to give an Oscar-worthy performance.

To me, the past few years was the first time Will Smith looked old. There were lines around his eyes. The skin was looser. The gleam of well-tended, youthful skin was now dull and muddy. His smile wasn’t as bright. This was the first time that Will, to my knowledge, had to go on a public diet and exercise plan to whip himself back into shape.

Before that August Alsina crap, I’m not sure Will Smith and a fat cell had been in the same room together for decades. But in the wake of that public scandal where he held his tongue and tried, successfully, I think, to maintain what was left of his not inconsiderable dignity — after his wife publicly humiliated him — he visibly suffered.

His energy wasn’t the same, and here now, at a night that have been focused on him, on his achievements, his performance of a lifetime, his friend — his old friend — brought that pain up again. Jada is a weak point for Will. She is a living, breathing, Achille’s Heel. And his old friend stabbed him in it. In front of everybody. Again.

Come on. It’s comedy. Learn to take a joke. No. Have some respect. I’ve never liked that sharp edge humor. That taint of cruelty when you make one person the butt of a joke. It’s exactly why I don’t go to comedy shows.

The last one I attended was actually Chris Rock, decades ago while I was in college, and he was just starting to make a name for himself. He came to my little school in Missouri, and he was funny. And he has been funny. But last night Chris Rock crossed the line. And Will Smith went back over that line and checked his ass. Gangster.

I’m not glad he did, but I understand it, and they’ll both survive. From a brand perspective. Will Smith has decades of Mr. Nice Guy equity to shore him up in the face of this blip. And Chris was impressive as he took that slap and kept right on rolling. Talk about performance under pressure. Gangster.

Well, said my friend Len, he didn’t have to take his anger out on that man like that. If it had been The Rock he’d have thought twice. But The Rock wouldn’t have made that joke. I don’t think. I could be giving Dwayne Johnson too much credit, but that line of thinking is not relevant.

Will Smith did what men have done since time immemorial. He defended his wife’s honor. Whether she deserved it or not, he did what men do. I have no problem with that. I live in the world. I know how it works. This is what men do. And women low key expect it.

What irked the shit out of me as I read some of the comments about the incident, was how many of us were receiving and judging this situation through a white lens: He shouldn’t have done that in front of all these white people. He shouldn’t have hit that Black man like that.

That’s disgusting.

We may have literally watched a decades long friendship end — I don’t see how their friendship could ever fully recover from this — and some of us are worried about what white people think?

So, yeah. I came out of blog retirement, and I couldn’t even wait for Friday.

I feel sad that this happened, for both men. But this is what unkindness leads to.

Will broke my heart a little bit when he gave his acceptance speech. He knew the night, his win, so much, was compromised. I was glad to see the hugs when he took the stage, the actors who stood to their feet for his talent and likely who they know him to be as a person. I cried for his pain in the midst of this milestone, but he’ll be fine.

I will be watching with interest to see how this situation plays out. But one thing is certain. There are very few people who can say, I slapped the shit out somebody, and then I won an Oscar.

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