Will Smith won an Oscar for Best Actor on Sunday, but the moment everyone will be talking about (and will instantly go down in Oscar history) is the surprise exchange that he had with Chris Rock that had everyone in shock.
Chris Rock was tasked with presenting the Oscar for Best Documentary, which would eventually be handed out to Summer of Soul. As presenters usually try to do, Rock attempted to have some fun with his moment on the Dolby Stage. Rather than focusing his bit on the category, he instead started by addressing the nominated couple of Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos) and Penelope Cruz (Parallel Mothers) before then pivoting to another Hollywood power couple in the audience, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, particularly the latter.
Rock joked that he was looking forward to seeing Pinkett Smith in GI Jane 2, referring to her shaved head. Pinkett Smith has alopecia, something that she has spoken about openly.
Will Smith did not like the joke, made his way to the stage and slapped Rock across the face. Many then had their audio went out because of censorship issues, but after Smith returned to his seat he yelled back to rock, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth!”
The moment was so shocking that almost no one could tell if the moment was staged or sincere. But this was no stunt. Press at the Dolby Theater shared on social media the scene following the incident, which included the likes of Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry speaking to Smith off the side, as well as Smith’s publicist and the Oscars producer Will Packer speaking to Smith.
The moment where Will Smith seemingly slapped Chris Rock at the #Oscars, saying "Keep my wife's name out of your f--king mouth" https://t.co/FkDpxopYjH pic.twitter.com/gS70SNCcWOMarch 28, 2022
Will Smith's publicist talking to him during commercial break. #Oscars pic.twitter.com/Aa0e6j8QyrMarch 28, 2022
During the commercial break, Will Smith is pulled aside and comforted by Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry, who motion for him to brush it off. Will appears to wipe tears from his eyes as he sits back down with Jada, with Denzel comforting Jada and Will’s rep by his side. pic.twitter.com/uDGVnWrSS2March 28, 2022
Just a little while after this, Smith won Best Actor for his performance in King Richard. The part of his acceptance speech was about how Richard Williams protected his family, with tears quickly welling up in his eyes. He referenced the incident while never directly speaking to it. He apologized to the Academy and other nominees while sharing something that Washington told him in their commercial conversation — “the devil comes for you at your highest moment.” Smith ended his speech saying he hopes the Academy invites him back.
Those in attendance appeared to show their support for Smith, including last year's Best Picture winner Anthony Hopkins, who offered his support in his moment before presenting the Best Actress award.
This will be a topic of discussion for days to come (if not longer) and we can be sure that we will hear more about the situation from Smith and from Rock in the near future.
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Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.