Editorial: Hitting Chris Rock should cost Will Smith his invitation to next year’s Oscar show
Once again, the Oscars show proved that unpredictability is often its hallmark. But violence shouldn’t be.
It was unexpected to see a man walk the red carpet with no shirt. It was surprisingly delightful to see a film about a deaf family with a hearing daughter win Best Picture and be cheered by an audience waving their hands in visual applause. But movie star Will Smith barreling up to the stage, unbeckoned, to smack comic Chris Rock in the face for making a joke about the actor’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, was not just a shocker. It was an assault that should have been called out immediately for the unconscionable act that it was.
“Leave my wife’s name out your f— mouth,” Smith shouted to Rock across the theater after returning to his seat.
If the assault had been done by a player during an NBA or NFL game, he might have been suspended or fined for fighting. Instead Smith was allowed to walk back to his seat. Then he won the Oscar for lead actor for his portrayal of the demanding father of tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams in the movie “King Richard.” Smith used his moment onstage — this time legitimately invited up — for a tearful, self-indulgent speech about how, like the man he portrayed on screen, he, too, has to defend his family.
So that’s the lesson Smith took from Richard Williams — that hitting someone for making an offensive comment is defending your family?
In the wake of last night’s shocking altercation at the Oscars, the film academy announced it is conducting a review of Will Smith’s actions.
Rock had made a crack about Pinkett Smith’s short hair: “‘G.I. Jane 2,’can’t wait to see it.” Pinkett Smith has said she has alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss.
But the entire show was peppered with cracks from the hosts skewering celebrities in the audience — including an allusion to gossip about Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s marriage. Rock’s joke might have been in poor taste, but Smith’s reaction to it was indefensible. Kanye West famously stunned an audience when he jumped onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009 and interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for best female video, declaring that Beyonce “had one of the best videos of all time.”
That boorish behavior earned him a rebuke from President Obama, who called him a “jackass.”
Smith’s behavior went way beyond that. This was not akin to the recent shocking moment at the Oscars in 2017 when Warren Beatty announced the wrong winner for Best Picture as “La La Land” and, after finding out it was a mistake, one of the movie’s producers handed over his Oscar to the director of “Moonlight.” That moment was about grace and fellowship onstage. This moment was about the opposite — disgracefulness and arrogance.
We know this isn’t what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had in mind when officials set out to revitalize the show, which routinely runs longer than three hours and has plummeted in its viewership. It’s not often that the L.A. Police Department has to issue a statement on the Oscars. On Sunday, the department said it was “aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program” and that no charges had been filed.
Chris Rock, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith have found themselves at odds before. Remember what happened at the 2016 Oscars?
“The Academy does not condone violence of any form,” the organization tweeted Sunday night. Except that it did. Smith received his Oscar and his accolades. All of us should be offended by the assault at the Oscars, and the academy should make it clear it will not go unpunished.
On Monday, the academy responded more strongly, saying it “condemns” Smith’s actions and added that it had begun a formal review and will “explore further action and consequences.”
It can start by making it clear to Smith and the public that he will not be invited back to the Oscar show next year as a guest or a presenter. Traditionally, the winner of the lead actor award presents the Oscar the following year to the leading actress winner (as Anthony Hopkins did Sunday night with Jessica Chastain.)
The actor finally apologized to Rock late Monday afternoon, writing on his Instagram account that his behavior was “unacceptable and inexcusable.” Addressing Rock directly, Smith said, “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.” That apology was the least Smith could do. The gravity of his actions seems to be sinking into his consciousness. But that doesn’t absolve him of having to suffer the consequences. He should not be at the Academy Awards show next year.
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