Now that we’re more than 24 hours removed from what will go down as the craziest Academy Awards in the history of Hollywood, let us try to sort out the crazy moment that everyone is talking about. By now you’ve no doubt seen the video of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, heard the audio of Smith screaming at Rock, sent or received a few Will Smith memes from friends, discussed alopecia and probably googled G.I. Jane if you didn’t fully understand the joke Rock was making. We are not here to take sides or delve into what happened between Will Smith and Chris Rock. Chris Rock is a comedian who tells jokes and he made a bad joke that was in poor taste. Will Smith is an actor who in the moment lost his cool and absolutely crossed the line with his actions. Instead of looking at those two, we can instead focus on two other specific elements that were involved in the incident.
Questlove: Since no one remembers what Chris Rock was doing on stage at the Oscars here’s a refresher- He was there to present the award for Best Documentary Feature. Once Will Smith was done screaming at him he presented the nominees, with Roots drummer and The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon bandleader Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson among them. Questlove was nominated for Summer of Soul, a film about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. Questlove ended up winning, taking home his first Oscar which is the latest accomplishment for the talented musician. He earned this moment to be on stage. But he had this moment stolen from him by Will Smith. Barely anyone was paying attention to his acceptance speech because they were all stunned by what had transpired just moments ago. Thompson himself didn’t even seem to want to be up there. He got emotional talking about the award and his Dad who passed away in 2016. The camera cut to a shot of Questlove’s Mom who was very emotional as she watched her son win an Oscar. Questlove’s big win should have been one of the ceremony’s more triumphant moments but instead it was an afterthought. Does anyone remember seeing his speech? Many people were probably rewatching the moment Will Smith slapped Chris Rock to determine if it was real or not and then probably skipped over his speech to get caught up with live programming. Questlove deserved to have his moment on a big stage and Will Smith denied him that moment.
The Academy: Over time, the way the Academy handled this is going to look worse and worse. An actor got up on stage, slapped a presenter, sat back down, cursed at them, and then minutes later was back up on stage to accept an award. And the Academy just let this happen and didn’t intervene. Will Smith remained in his seat in the front row. No one thought to remove him. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and everything happened very fast but did anyone think maybe it would be a good idea to at least have Smith backstage and out of view? Or maybe Jada could have accepted the award on his behalf? For the 5% of the population that still thinks the whole thing was staged they’re probably using the inaction by the Academy to bolster their argument. They did release a statement on Monday saying they don’t condone violence and are opening a formal review of the incident (here) but no one really knows what that will entail. Taking Smith’s Oscar away from him seems like an extreme measure, especially if Rock isn’t pressing charges. If last year someone said “The 2022 Oscars will have a viral moment that everyone will be talking about the next day” the Academy surely would have been giddy over it as a means to help them be more relevant. However, in this circumstance it’s clear that all publicity isn’t good publicity. The Academy should have acted (or reacted) quickly after the incident. But they didn’t. They seemed to adopt a “the show must go on” mentality.
Only time will tell what comes of this incident. Maybe Smith isn’t asked back. Or maybe Rock and Smith patch things up and present an award together next year with Rock poking fun at the whole thing wearing a neck brace. Maybe the incident will blow over by next week. Hopefully there is a positive outcome for all involved. Questlove gave an emotional speech when he accepted his award. Was he emotional because he won or because he was talking about his parents? Unfortunately, his emotional speech has been forgotten because his moment was stolen by a slap.