It’s safe to say you’d never seen one tuxedoed Oscar attendee strike another live during the ceremony before. But during Sunday night’s 2022 Academy Awards, that’s exactly what happened.
Comedian Chris Rock was on stage joking about Jada Pinkett Smith, who currently has short hair as a result of alopecia, and said, “Jada, I love you. GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see you.” Then, Pinkett Smith’s husband, actor Will Smith, walked up on stage and appeared to hit Rock in the face. While the sound quickly got shut off on the US telecast, Australian and Japanese viewers heard Smith tell Rock twice, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”
LA Times writer Amy Kaufman explained on Twitter what may have caused Smith’s anger, writing, “Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith being in ‘G.I. Jane’ because of her bald head. She’s spoken openly about having a hair loss condition. Will Smith ran on stage, slapped Rock, then screamed twice at the top of his lungs “KEEP MY WIFE’S NAME OUT OF YOUR F-NG MOUTH.”
The New York Times critic Wesley Morris wrote in the paper’s live online Oscar blog, “Chris Rock was presenting the documentary Oscar and made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s amazing, tight haircut and it looked like Will Smith walked up and punched him, or tried to, and then berated Rock from his seat. It was like Smith punched the audio out, too.”
Videos captured in other countries show Rock laughing after being hit and saying, “Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me,” and Smith yelling back from his chair, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”
Later Sunday night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said in a statement it “does not condone violence of any form.”
The plot thickened later, when Smith won the best actor Oscar for his role as Richard Williams, father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, in King Richard. An obviously emotional, crying Smith seemed to address the slap, and how he was protecting his family by taking a swing at Rock.
“Art imitates life,” Smith said. “I look like the crazy father, just like Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things.”
Smith also said he would like to apologize to the academy and to all his fellow nominees. It was unclear if he was apologizing for the slap or for crying on stage.
Many of Smith’s comments as he accepted the award seemed to be referencing the Rock slap. As an actor, “you gotta be able to take abuse, you got to be able to have people talk crazy about you, you got to smile, you got to pretend like that’s OK,” he said.
Rock, for his part, “provided to Variety.,” according to a statement from the Los Angeles Police Department
“LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program. The incident involved one individual slapping another,” the statement reads. “The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”
Pinkett Smith revealed her alopecia diagnosis in 2018. Alopecia is a condition that causes drastic hair loss.
Many viewers at first thought the punch was scripted and meant to be humorous, but it slowly dawned on viewers that what they just saw was real.
“Yeah, that looks like a real slap,” wrote one person.
The surprising punch lit up social media on what had been a fairly regular Oscar night.
Writer Ashley Feinberg wrote, “honestly with how easy it seems to just walk up there and do whatever i can’t believe more shit hasn’t gone down.”
One tweet referenced Will Smith’s role in the 1990s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, writing, “That’s why he got sent to Bel-Air in the first place. Shit like that.” In the comedy, Smith played a Philadelphia teen who got in trouble with gang members in Philadelphia and was sent to live with his wealthy aunt and uncle in California.