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Will Smith
Will Smith shouting at Chris Rock. Photo: ABC/Courtesy
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Content Warning: Violence and sexual assault

At the 2022 Oscars, Will Smith slapped host Chris Rock following a joke about his wife’s shaved head. Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith, has a shaved head due to her recent alopecia diagnosis.

Here are two takes on the situation.

Violence is never the answer

I’m not exactly sure what goes through someone’s mind that would compel them to hit another person. I mean, sure, have been times when my sister and I have wanted to punch each other in the face? Yes.

But have we ever actually done it? Obviously not. I’ve always found that time helps heal all problems, so if we fight, we just ignore each other for a little while until we’re ready to come back together.

There are many layers to the situation between Rock and Smith, so I’m going to try and put this in the simplest terms: violence is never the answer. There are times when people put celebrities on a pedestal where the rules don’t apply to them. They can do anything they want and it wouldn’t phase the majority because they’re famous and can do whatever they want.

What we forget to consider is the fact that they are just human beings. Did I shock you? They have families. They have friends. Walking onto a stage and hitting someone in the face because your wife didn’t like a joke is literally the most outrageous thing I could ever think of. 

As a woman, I can understand the heroicness of having your significant other stand up for you, but I would be so embarrassed if they chose violence to do so. In fact, Pinkett Smith later stated — because this family doesn’t know when to shut the fuck up — that she wished her husband didn’t slap Rock.

It’s really hard to root for a person when their own wife can’t condone their actions.

The biggest issue for me is that the Smiths have chosen a very public life. Of course, all celebrities sign up to be in the public eye. However, Pinkett Smith and Smith have gone out of their way to share very intimate parts of their marriage and relationship with the world.

And now, when a comedian says a JOKE about one of them, they throw a fit? I’m sorry, they didn’t throw a fit — they decided to get physical.

It would have been one thing to confront Rock after the fact, but walking onto the stage and slapping him? This just does not sit right with me.

Now, I know a lot of you reading this are probably thinking: “Des, she has alopecia. That is so messed up of Chris Rock to comment on it after she has been so open about it.”

First of all, not to be that person, but much worse has been said by a comedian in front of a live audience — or did we all forget when Ricky Gervais hosted the Golden Globes? Regardless, this is not the first time a celebrity has made fun of the Smiths about information they have given to the public.

Not only that, but think about how Smith’s actions completely changed the energy in the building. So many people worked so hard to be nominated or invited to the Academy Awards, and now their spotlight is instead shining on Smith and Pinkett-Smith yet again.

Smith could have easily used his acceptance speech as a moment to talk about the joke and how they might’ve found it disrespectful. It might have been hard to believe him since he was laughing at the joke not five seconds before walking on stage. Nevertheless, that would have been a great opportunity to address Rock while also bringing awareness to alopecia.

In the end, all I can think about is the embarrassment that Smith’s slap must have caused Rock. He is a professional, just as much as Smith is, and he is also a father and a husband. 

Think about a time your dad said something as a joke that might have offended someone else at a family get-together. You know your dad and you know he meant it as a joke — obviously, you’re a little embarrassed, but you know he meant no harm.

Now, imagine the offended person walking up to your dad and slapping him across the face… in front of everyone. On top of that, imagine someone whispered the joke in your dad’s ear before he repeated it out loud.

Think about what your reaction would be at that moment, and then think about Rock and his children, who now have to see a video of their father getting slapped across the face, all over the internet. 

This slap, while it’s just a topic for us to debate, impacted real people. I can’t justify defending Smith just because his family has been going through a lot. In the end, violence is just not the answer.

-Desiree Nikfardjam, arts & culture editor.

Jokes at the expense of Black women to appease a white audience need to stop

As many may know, the recent airing of the 94th Academy Awards ceremony was accompanied by much controversy. The ceremony included a few words from this year’s host, famous comedian Chris Rock. While presenting an award, Rock made a jab at Jada Pinkett Smith, stating “Jada, I love you. GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see it.” This is in reference to Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, which she announced was due to her recent diagnosis of alopecia — it bears passing resemblance to Demi Moore’s in the film GI Jane. 

Although Rock may have been able to garner a few chuckles from the audience, not all were amused, especially Will Smith, Pinkett Smith’s husband, who stormed onto the stage in a rage, imploring him “keep my wife’s name out of your mouth.” Smith then proceeded to slap Rock before returning to his seat. 

Following the events, the media went into a frenzy, as expected, people decided whether to side with Rock or Smith. However, in my opinion, this is not about Smith or Rock. Rather, I am here to share my thoughts on why Rock’s jokes are extremely problematic. I think it’s necessary to critique the Oscars and the media’s response to the incident.

This history of Black women’s hair in America has been filled with criticism. Before the official CROWN act in America, race-based hair discrimination in the workplace was common. Thus, for centuries, many have used harsh chemical processes to straighten their hair and appeal to white audiences. Even within Western media, when Black women choose to wear their natural hair or non-Eurocentric hairstyles, it is often frowned upon. 

A prime example of this is the controversy that transpired over Zendaya’s choice to wear dreadlocks at the Oscars. In this instance, TV host, Giuliana Rancic, ignorantly joked that the traditional style smelled like “patchouli and weed”.

Rock, himself, is no stranger to this criticism. In his own documentary, “Good Hair,” Rock addressed many of the issues Black women face with their hair. This begs the question: what are the true intentions behind Rock’s problematic joke? The clear answer is to appease a white audience. It is a common trope in the media to ridicule people of colour in order to humour a white audience that does not truly understand the nuance and gravity of said ‘jokes.’ 

Seeing as the Oscars and film industry is notorious for its white majority, it is clear that the jab made at Pinkett Smith raised only lighthearted laughter without any further critical thought on its impact. However, don’t just take my word for it — many Black creatives have spoken out about this issue.

 “HAIR is a VERY sensitive subject for many women of colour; Black women in particular. Chris Rock knows this better than most [because] he produced a documentary called #GoodHair (that I starred in),” stated Elgin Charles, a famous Black hairstylist, in a tweet.

Further, the situation is only exacerbated by the flooding of non-Black individuals voicing their distaste of Smith’s actions all over social media. This fails to acknowledge the deeper issue of Black hair, and society’s need to appease white individuals. Additionally, when these conversations saturate the media, it leaves no room for anyone to have meaningful and productive conversations about said issues. 

 “These discussions are really, really hard to have when white people keep rushing in with their opinions that have NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with what we are trying to discuss,” echoed Ijeoma Oluo, bestselling author of So You Want To Talk About Race, in her blog, Behind The Book.

Finally, it is important to note that this incident is not the worst thing the Oscars has allowed. We would be here forever if I were to name every scandal, but a notable few are:

To conclude, this issue goes beyond a potential feud between Rock and Smith. It addresses a larger problem about the need of the media to constantly appease whiteness at the expense of people of colour.

 Moving forward, when blowouts like these occur in the media, I believe it’s important to consult different resources and gain better insight before taking to Twitter and Instagram to bash celebrities. These issues are complex and nuanced and, oftentimes, in the midst of the excitement over new controversies, we can forget that these issues impact real people and their lives. 

-​​Ritika Bhagat, contributor.