Will Smith was having the Oscars of his life – as frontrunner for Best Actor – until he began having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Oscars and then went right back to having the best Oscars ever. In a story that could easily have been a film plot, he was both the hero and the villain of the 94th Academy Awards that were held in Los Angeles. The short version – Will slapped Chris Rock over a joke about wife Jada and then won an Oscar. The long version below – here is how Slapgate, or "the slap seen around the world" as it's become known on social media, went down.
The first thing to know is that Jada Pinkett suffers from alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss and because of which she wears her hair almost shaved down to the scalp. Jada revealed in 2018 that she has alopecia and has described it as “terrifying” to deal with.
Maybe presenter Chris Rock didn't know that Jada's bald head is not her look by choice; maybe he did know and decided to joke about it anyway. “Jada, can't wait for GI Jane 2,” he quipped – GI Jane is a reference to a 90s film in which Demi Moore stars as a female Navy SEAL and in which she wears her hair closely cropped as SEALs do.
Jada's first reaction was an eye roll and Will seemed to laugh, even. The camera, which was on the Smiths, cut back to Chris; moments later, it captured Will storming up to Chris Rock and decking him – right there on a live broadcast being watched around the globe. Returning to his seat, Will yelled, “Keep my wife's name out of your f*****g mouth.”
A moment so absolutely over the top could not be anything but staged – could it? Turns out, it could. Chris Rock kept calm and carried on after saying, “Will Smith slapped the s**t out of me.” In the star-studded audience, the reactions made it clear that this was no scripted skit.
Minutes later, Will Smith won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in King Richard – as he was expected to do. It seemed that by then, better sense had prevailed, helped in part by fellow Best Actor nominee Denzel Washington who gave Will some friendly advice during the commercial break. “I want to apologise to the Academy. I want to apologise to all my fellow nominees,” Will said in his speech – pointedly leaving out Chris Rock's name.
“I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things,” said a tearful Will before revealing what Denzel told him: "Thank you Denzel, who said to me a few minutes ago... he said, 'at your highest moment, be careful, that's when the devil comes for you.'”
On social media, Slapgate is occupying characters and mind space. Blame has been placed on both the slapper, Will Smith, and the slappee, Chris Rock. Here are two reaction tweets from Hollywood, each condemning one party:
Will Smith owes Chris Rock a huge apology. There is no excuse for what he did. He's lucky Chris is not filing assault charges. The excuses he made tonight were bullshit.— Rob Reiner (@robreiner) March 28, 2022
Violence isn't ok. Assault is never the answer. Also? This is the 2nd time that Chris has made fun of Jada on the #Oscars stage, & tonight he went after her alopecia. Punching down at someone's auto-immune disease is wrong. Doing so on purpose is cruel. They both need a breather.— Sophia Bush (@SophiaBush) March 28, 2022
The Smiths have closed rank, of course. “And that's how we do it,” tweeted Will and Jada's son Jaden Smith who was at the Oscars.
And That's How We Do It— Jaden (@jaden) March 28, 2022
In a brief tweeted statement, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said it does not “condone violence of any form.” Meantime, Chris Rock has declined to file a police complaint, the Los Angeles Police Department said.
The Academy does not condone violence of any form.— The Academy (@TheAcademy) March 28, 2022
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.
Will Smith posed for pictures with his family after his Best Actor win. He was later seen partying at the annual Vanity Fair post-Oscar bash like Slapgate hadn't happened.
Had Slapgate actually not happened, the enormity of Will Smith's Oscar would not have been all but eclipsed – he is only the fifth African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor after Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx and Forest Whitaker.