By Takshi Mehta Mar. 28, 2022
Other than being chaotic and unpredictable this year’s Oscar ceremony will of course be dissected for the Will Smith-Chris Rock altercation that could both, have been avoided and dealt with better. All it did was undermine a night for cinema, especially for representation in cinema by two men who should’ve known better.
It’s Oscars 2022, and Chris Rock is on stage presenting the award for Best Documentary Feature. In his quintessential style, he makes a few jokes on the nominees from the acting category, followed by which he takes an insensitive and ignorant jibe at Will Smith’s wife, the gorgeous Jada-Pinkett Smith. ‘Jada I love you. G.I Jane 2, can’t wait t see it’ says Rock, in a tasteless attempt to compare Jada, to G.I Jane because of her bald head.
Jada suffers from alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that leads to rapid hair loss. The actress and singer has been quite vocal about her condition and demonstrated her displeasure at the joke that was made at her expense, by rolling her eyes. Will, who initially laughed it off, noticed his wife’s discomfort and climbed onto the stage, punched Chris, and then stormed off to his seat, only to scream twice, ‘Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!’
A little while later the King Richard star, went onto the bag the Best Actor Academy Award and gave a teary-eyed speech. In his speech, he compared himself to Richard Williams, in order to justify his recent actions by saying, ‘Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family.’ He also apologised for the altercation and joked that ‘I hope the Academy invites me back’. Phew, I thought I watched all of this unfold.
What was supposed to be a moment of victory for Smith and his family turned out to be a scandalous altercation that overshadowed everything else, even Smith’s own glorious win. A monumental win like this shall now always be remembered for the scandal and it’s truly a pity. While Smith lost his moment partially due to his own lack of self-control poor Questlove (who won the category Rock was presenting) was robbed of his thanks to two men and their inability to keep their heads or their hearts. Ironically, Summer Of Soul, a film about the Harlem Renaissance, a movement that saw the revival of African-American culture was undermined by the misdemeanor of two black men.
A monumental win like this shall now always be remembered for the scandal and it’s truly a pity.
After a debacle of such a scale, a tide of opinions is sure to follow and it would of course seem acceptable to blame it all on testosterone and toxic masculinity. After all, one man thought it was alright to crack an ableist joke about a woman’s appearance and the other felt that it was down to him to defend her honour, even if it took violence to do so. On some level, both men are at fault.
Rock for behaving like an inconsiderate moron and body-shaming to derive humour out of someone’s insecurities and Smith for failing to choose dignified protest in favour of violent retort. You can’t right a wrong with another wrong and this entire episode is a perfect illustration of how the response to verbal violence should not be violence of another type. What’s rather painful about this episode is that it belittles a stage most of us refer to for peerless artistic highs, the one stage that establishes the significance of art and cinema in our lives. And yet it’ll be remembered for anything but.
You can’t right a wrong with another wrong and this entire episode is a perfect illustration of how the response to verbal violence should not be violence of another type.
‘Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father. But love will make you do crazy things,’ Smith said in his victory speech. Whether the assault was rooted in love, is hard to say because it will be interpreted and dissected from a variety of viewpoints. Some of these will of course declare Rock at fault, some will find flaw in Smith’s response. The fact is both men erred, to varying degrees, and on a night that was really about celebrating representation and women, the discourse gravitated towards a quibble that could have been both, avoided or dealt with better. You could argue who could have done what, but the point is an entire array of cinema’s biggest winners and champions must feel hard done by an event they had neither anticipated or could, for the best part of an uncomfortable ceremony, fail to process.
In fact, if there’s anything that one should actually be talking about from this fiasco, then it is Denzel Washington’s words, ‘At your highest moment, be careful because that’s when the devil comes for you’ as well as his compassionate gesture in first, consoling Will, and later pointing at him affectionately when the nominations for Best Actor were being announced, hinting at an impending Smith victory. You can see how maturity and humility seamlessly radiates from greatness. Something both Rock and the mercurial Smith fell short on a night where both could have behaved like victors, but left as losers.
Takshi believes that in the end, we are what we stand up for, and thus you'll always find her wielding a pen and writing frantically. When she isn't writing, you'll find her dancing or reading. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @takshimehta