Will Smith–Chris Rock slapping incident
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On March 27, 2022, during the live television broadcast of the 94th Academy Awards, actor Will Smith walked on stage and slapped comedian Chris Rock across the face as he presented the Award for Best Documentary. Just before, Rock had acknowledged Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, with a joke about her shaved head. Pinkett Smith, who has alopecia areata, was seated next to Smith and did not appear amused, while Smith laughed at the joke. Smith then walked onto the stage and slapped Rock before returning to his seat and shouting at the comedian, including the use of profanity. Rock briefly commented on the incident and then continued the ceremony. Later in the ceremony, Smith went on to win the Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of tennis coach Richard Williams in the film King Richard. In his acceptance speech, Smith apologized to the Academy and his colleagues, but not to Rock.
Audience members and television viewers were shocked by the incident, with some wondering whether it was scripted. In the United States, most of the audio of the confrontation was muted by broadcaster ABC due to federal laws, but uncensored video footage from international broadcasters was posted online and quickly went viral, rapidly accumulating tens of millions of views across multiple platforms. The incident prompted widespread commentary, discussion, and debate. The following day, Smith issued an apology to Rock and the Academy via Instagram and Facebook. Smith resigned his membership in the Academy on April 1, 2022, amid facing a potential suspension or expulsion from the organization.
Rock came on stage to announce the nominees for Best Documentary Feature at the 94th Academy Awards, where he performed a brief monologue filled with jokes, largely reading from a teleprompter script. Rock made a joke about a husband and a wife, Javier Bardem, and Penélope Cruz, both receiving comparable nominations at the same ceremony. The joke was that Bardem would be "praying that Will Smith wins" for Best Actor if Cruz lost her award.
Meanwhile, Smith and Pinkett Smith were seated together near the front of the audience. Rock then began an ad-libbed joke about Pinkett Smith's shaved head, making a comparison to Demi Moore's character in the 1997 film, G.I. Jane.
Transcript: Rock: Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can't wait to see it, all right? [audience laughs]
The broadcast showed Smith and Pinkett Smith's reactions to the joke: Smith laughed and smiled, while Pinkett Smith's face showed clear displeasure. The broadcast then returned to Rock.
Rock: It's—that was a—that was a nice one! Okay. I'm out here— [he sees Smith approaching him] uh oh–Richar...
(Rock continued laughing and leaning forward as Smith crossed the stage to stand and confront him face-to-face. Without speaking, Smith slapped Rock across the face, then quickly turned around and returned to his seat. Rock reacted to the incident on stage, while Smith shouted at him from his seat, without a microphone.)
Rock: Oh, wow! Wow! [shakes head and clicks tongue] Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me. [audience laughs] Thi–
Smith: Keep my wife's name out your f*****g mouth! [audience low gasps]
Rock: Wow, dude!
Rock: It was a G.I. Jane joke.
Smith: [raising voice] Keep my wife's name out your f*****g mouth!
Rock: I'm going to, okay? …I could, oh, okay. That was a... greatest night in the history of television, okay. [audience laughs] Okay.
Smith's expletives following the slap were censored through audio muting during the live broadcast in many countries.
Newsweek published an article on April 1, 2022, pointing out that Chris Rock had made remarks about Jada Pinkett Smith's activism as far back as 1997, when Rock made jokes ridiculing Pinkett Smith's participation in the Million Woman March, in a heavily edited video as a part of a monologue, as well as in an interview with Pinkett Smith on his eponymous late-night talk show, The Chris Rock Show.
On March 3, 2022, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Rock as one of the presenters of the 94th Academy Awards. Rock previously served as the host for the awards on two separate occasions, including in 2016, when several actors boycotted the event due to the lack of African American nominees. Pinkett Smith was among those participating in the boycott, leading Rock to joke about her in his opening monologue: "Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna's panties. I wasn't invited."
During a 2018 episode of her talk show Red Table Talk, Pinkett Smith revealed that she was losing her hair, potentially because of stress. She was diagnosed with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease, and in July 2021, she decided to completely shave her head.
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and SAG-AFTRA
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) issued a statement the following day, condemning Smith's actions and announcing a formal review. SAG-AFTRA, the labor union representing film and television actors, issued a similar statement condemning Smith's behavior: "Violence or physical abuse in the workplace is never appropriate and the union condemns any such conduct. The incident involving Will Smith and Chris Rock at last night's Academy Awards was unacceptable. We have been in contact with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and ABC about this incident and will work to ensure this behavior is appropriately addressed. SAG-AFTRA does not comment on any pending member disciplinary process."
Three days after the incident, Rock briefly mentioned the subject for the first time at a comedy show, saying that he was still processing it, but promised to talk about it in the future. He denied rumors that he had spoken to Smith since the altercation. Rock also stated that Smith had not reached out to him personally, nor had they spoken since the ceremony.
Allegations of a possible publicity stunt
Some commentators opined that the altercation was a publicity stunt, due in part to waning viewership numbers for recent years. David Griner from Adweek tweeted: "A slow walk up, an open hand slap, no stagger, slow walk back with no scuffle and no security personnel stepping in? Feels staged for publicity," with several tweets agreeing with this assessment. Academy sources later told news outlets that the incident was not planned, and that Rock's joke was ad-libbed.
There was some minor discussion as to why an earlier joke by Regina Hall that seemingly made light of the Smiths' marital situation and prior relationship difficulties was received with laughter by the Smiths in contrast to how the couple reacted to the joke by Chris Rock.
Comedians and comedy clubs
Some comedians, including George Wallace and Kathy Griffin, have spoken out about how the incident has made them feel worried about the possibility of more confrontations, and maybe more careful about the topics they joke about. Comedic actor Jim Carrey opined that Smith should have been arrested, and that he would have sued Smith for $200 million had he been the one who was slapped, saying "that video is going to be there forever. It's going to be ubiquitous. That insult is going to last a very long time." Carrey also criticized the Hollywood film industry for giving Smith a standing ovation after receiving his award. Comedic actor Cedric the Entertainer stated at an Oscars after-party if he was assaulted for joking about someone's wife during a stand-up, he would defend himself. English comedian James Corden praised Chris Rock for "keeping the show moving" and criticized Will Smith for not taking a joke; he parodied the incident on his late-night show by singing a parody of "We Don't Talk About Bruno" about Jada Pinkett Smith. Amy Schumer claimed she was traumatized by the incident and criticized Smith while referring to him as "Ali". Schumer also criticized the control AMPAS had over the ceremony, contrasting how she was restricted from telling a joke about Halyna Hutchins' death in the Rust shooting incident against Smith being able to "just come up and [slap] someone".
The Laugh Factory expressed its support of the First Amendment for comedians in the wake of the incident, and comedy clubs around the United States, including Stand Up NY and Carolines on Broadway, announced that they would be increasing security measures. The president of the Laugh Factory said he has noticed an increase in aggression among patrons since the businesses reopened after the lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The owner of the Comedy Cellar, however, expressed doubts that the slap would inspire copycats.
In a statement released the following Wednesday, the Academy said Smith was asked to leave the ceremony and refused. However, others who were present in the room denied that Smith was ever asked, either directly or through a representative, to leave; disagreement ensued between members of the academy's leadership and ceremony producer Will Packer on whether Smith should be allowed to stay, which led to no action being taken. Sources told Variety that Packer "was the key to Smith remaining in his seat". In a subsequent interview with Good Morning America, Packer said he opposed suggestions to remove Smith from the theater because he did not believe that Rock would want it.
Within forty minutes, Smith won the award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Richard Williams in King Richard. He focused his speech on his need to protect those around him and apologized to the academy and the other nominees, but not to Rock. He received a standing ovation. Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian stated that his speech "somehow had to make slapping Rock consistent with playing Richard Williams when the movie had been all about Richard Williams's insistence on high standards of behavior and his heroically non-violent confrontation with hoodlums harassing his daughters." The Economist described his acceptance speech, in which he appealed to God calling on him to do "crazy things" in the name of love, as "dangerous, self-serving cant".
That evening, LAPD officers met with Packer, who later recalled that they were prepared to arrest Smith on charges of battery. Rock repeatedly declined to press charges.
Near 1:00 a.m., Smith was filmed dancing at the Vanity Fair after-party as a DJ played Smith's song "Gettin' Jiggy wit It". Writing in The New Yorker, partygoer Michael Schulman observed: "In a Hollywood ending that seemed too dark and surreal to be true, [Smith] appeared to be having the time of his life."