The 94th Oscars Ceremony was already problematic before Will Smith struck Chris Rock

A visibly-emotional Will Smith sits down after having slapped Chris Rock on stage at the Dolby Theatre – PHOTO: AMPAS, 2022.

Others may disagree but the Academy Awards ceremony — arguably Hollywood’s biggest night — is never boring to me. Some cinephiles think of it like their Super Bowl, their WrestleMania, but I don’t think anyone expected the ceremony to devolve into a contact sport as it briefly did in the Dolby Theatre at the 94th Academy Awards, when one of Hollywood’s last name-brand movie stars, the almost-always cool Will Smith, lost his temper. It was certainly one of the uglier moments in Oscar history, and it also topped what was previously the craziest moment in Oscar history.


WHAT HAPPENED?!

Chris Rock was on stage to present the Oscar for Best Documentary — a big awards moment that was tarnished significantly by the moment of violence — and he made a G.I. Jane joke that made fun of Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head. Although it did look like Will Smith initially laughed at the comic’s remark (Jada looked more displeased), moments later the Men in Black and Independence Day fan-favorite star walked directly on stage, interrupted the show, and punched the Oscar presenter with an open hand. After the punch was dealt, he walked back to his seat and screamed back: “keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth” twice.

Now what not all of us may have been aware of — including Chris Rock for that matter — is that Jada has been diagnosed with alopecia. Regardless of whether Rock knew or not, I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to make fun of a woman having shaved her head precisely because we don’t necessarily know why her hair is gone, but Chris Rock did make that risky and wrong joke which, I guess, borders on ableism, and the Smiths didn’t take it well.

It is an ugly moment for several reasons. Firstly, because it should never have led to physical violence, which is never the answer, and while the physical altercation is something that can happen every day in real life, it certainly shouldn’t be televised for all the world to see. It goes without saying that Smith ought to have, instead, taken Chris Rock aside during a commercial break and asked for an apology or something like that. Secondly, the moment didn’t just take away from the Best Documentary moment and winners, it tarnished the rest of the night, made everyone very uncomfortable, and effectively ruined Will Smith’s Best Actor-winning moment. It should have been the greatest night of Will Smith’s career, but, instead, even though he did win the Oscar, this moment will haunt him forever.


WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

When Will Smith accepted his Best Actor trophy, which we pretty much all knew he was going home with, he was clearly emotional, and it sounded like he was trying to both process the Chris Rock moment and accept his career’s crowning achievement at the same time, which was difficult, to say the least. On stage, he apologized briefly to the Academy and his fellow nominees, but not to Chris Rock. He also did briefly intimate that Denzel Washington had advised him during commercials. It was an awkward acceptance speech because I’m sure we were all caught up in the moment and uncomfortable.

Reportedly, Chris Rock has since then decided not to file a police report, which I think is probably the right thing to do. So this shouldn’t lead to anything further than that. However, the Academy may still want to do something about it since Smith broke their code of conduct. He could be forced to forfeit the Academy Award, though I don’t currently think that is likely, even though the Academy has condemned his actions and launched a formal review.

The next morning, Will Smith and his representatives did also put out a statement on social media, wherein he apologized to Chris Rock and more. The statement reads:

“Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally. I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness. I would also like to apologize to the Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world. I would like to apologize to the Williams Family and my King Richard Family. I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us. I am a work in progress.”

Will Smith’s statement.

THOUGHTS ON THE CEREMONY AS A WHOLE

Although the Smith moment may have been what derailed the show, I contend that it was already not going well at that point and that the ceremony as a whole was a failure for the Academy, even though everyone is now talking about the ceremony. Because people are talking about the drama and not the deserving films that won the night. A celebration of films was tarnished and cheapened during the ceremony and not just by Will Smith.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has been chasing ratings that they may never reach again. Nowadays people aren’t watching television channels like they used to, and people are more interested in streaming and social media, and, yes, AMPAS, like everyone else, has to adapt. But in trying to chase those ratings the Academy has failed their own show, filmmaking, and the films that they are meant to honor.

In an attempt to streamline and shorten the show, eight awards — all of them pivotal — were handed out during the Oscars pre-show, while the outside world was watching the red carpet. The awards and acceptance speeches were then edited down and later shown during the live show, but to pre-tape categories is incredibly disrespectful to those categories, the filmmakers, and their craft and they were wrong to do it. It also didn’t help that the Best International Film winner was asked to leave the stage early into his acceptance speech. And in the end, none of it mattered. The show was even longer than last year’s ceremony so it was all for naught.

In trying to appeal to young audiences, the Academy did also embarrass themselves on the show. They cheapened the show by having two online and anonymous ‘fan-voted moments’ (#OscarsCheerMoment, #OscarsFanFavorite) that predictably ended with winners that made no sense. The internet likes to troll. Don’t let the internet decide things, it always ends in McBoatfacing. Also, why were Tony Hawk and other sports stars chosen to introduce the James Bond tribute? There are several little decisions like that one (DJ Khaled running across the stage as the three hosts were being introduced was so weird) that just didn’t make sense.

The three Oscar hosts started off well enough, but in their individual segments they just didn’t work, as they joked about not having seen the films (and I believe they implied that The Power of the Dog was too long to finish or boring), made inappropriate COVID-19 jokes, disrespected great films that weren’t even nominated (i.e. The Last Duel), and disrespected select nominees (e.g. though it must be understood that it was reportedly a bit that the actress was in on, Amy Schumer referred to Oscar-nominee Kirsten Dunst as a ‘seat filler’). Admittedly, there were some strong Oscar musical numbers, but Beyonce’s opening number should have been performed inside of the Dolby Theatre, and the remix of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” which was not nominated and therefore should not have been performed in the first place, was unsatisfying.

No one is talking about CODA, The Power of the Dog, or Dune right now. I feel disappointed for all of the winners, whose night has been overshadowed by a bad show and a physical altercation. I also feel bad for everyone involved in the Smith-Rock situation. It was so unnecessary and it is a moment that could haunt them forever. It’s a shame. This ceremony was entertaining for the wrong reasons.


– Article Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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