The jubilation of Oscar night was brought to a complete halt with a fiery on-stage confrontation between Will Smith and Chris Rock in a moment that will forever go down in pop culture history as yet another time an Oscar night went off the rails. Several weeks into Oscar season, on March 27th, Chris Rock was hosting a night set for four awards and during his ovation began to go into a roast. He got in some good jabs at those in attendance, including a husband and wife duo, who were both up for the same award and how the husband loses no matter what.
All hearts in the room were ensconced in good humor and fun. That was until Chris Rock suddenly segued into a joke at Jada Smith’s expense, saying “I love you Jada. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it.” This was a joke about Jada having no hair and comparing her to the G.I. Jane movie that was about a female terminator, who also had no hair. At first, Will Smith seemed to be laughing at the joke but when he looked over at his wife, Jada, and saw her clear displeasure with the joke, he wouldn’t take it sitting down. It turns out that Jada Smith suffers from alopecia, which causes hair loss. Low self-esteem and self-consciousness can result from this sudden hair loss condition.
Smith got up from his seat and made his way up the stairs and onto the stage. The crowd seemed to take this as a bit they were doing. They may have expected Will Smith to jokingly wrestle Chris Rock or take the microphone himself to fire back — nothing the crowd hadn’t seen before. All the fun was over when Smith slapped Rock hard across the face. The intensity of it surprised both Rock and the audience.
Nervous laughter filled the room with the attendees still hoping this was all in good fun. That was quickly gone when Smith returned to his seat and launched into a curse-laden tirade towards Rock, yelling “Keep my wife’s name out of your f**cking mouth!” The harshness and power of his tone removed any doubt that things had gotten serious and an air of awkward silence fell overall. Chris Rock got his bearings back and said to the audience, “Oh wow. Will Smith just smacked the sh*t out of me.”
It came out later that Chris Rock was delivering pre-made jokes and the Jada Smith joke was created by Amy Schumer. Schumer expressed later on that she felt “triggered and traumatized” from the events, having written the joke. Chris Rock has since said he is “still processing” what happened.
There is now some debate over how the Academy should respond to Will Smith’s actions. Some argue that they should disavow Smith or outright ban him in the future with a statement along the lines of “these actions do not represent us.” However, that wouldn’t be true if they did say that because this is not the first time something outrageous has happened at the Oscars and become a pop culture phenomenon.
Who could forget back in 2017 when “La La Land” was accidentally awarded Best Picture, instead of “Moonlight.” The hosts from that time might still have nightmares about it. Perhaps the most audacious and amusing thing to ever happen during an Oscars ceremony was in 1974 when a serial streaker, Robert Opel, ran completely naked onto the stage in full view of the audience and viewers watching at home.
These events do however have the unfortunate side-effect of taking away from those winning the awards and the barriers they may break. “La La Land” accidentally being given Best Picture took focus away from “Moonlight” and its historic win, being the first movie starring a gay person of color to win Best Picture. The night of the ordeal with Will Smith also saw Troy Kotsur as the first deaf person to win an Oscar for his role in “CODA” and Ariana DeBrose as the first openly queer woman of color to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.