The 94th Academy Awards had some of the best nominations to celebrate the best of cinema. But sadly, the celebration turned sour when Will Smith hit comedian and host Chris Rock for a harmless joke. Smith, who was nominated for his performance as Richard Williams in King Richard, later went on to win the Best Actor award. Whether Smith deserved the award over the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog) and Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick,…Boom!) is an entirely different discussion, but should the Academy have rewarded the actor after his actions?
Will Smith’s violent outburst at possibly one of the greatest stages sparked debate among people and other actors. While many actors believe that Will Smith was out of control and his actions were disgraceful, a few have sided with the actor citing that his action was necessary to protect the dignity of his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith.
What Happened Between Will Smith and Chris Rock?
It’s not the first time Chris Rock has taken a jab at Jada Pinkett-Smith. At the 88th Academy Awards, Rock had made fun of Jada for boycotting the Oscars despite being a television actor at the time. The comedian had also cracked a few jokes at the expense of Will Smith. Now in the 94th Academy Awards, Rock once again targeted Jada by calling her G.I. Jane 2 for her alopecia. While Will Smith initially laughed at the joke, the actor suddenly went up to the stage and slapped Chris Rock. Though Rock maintained his cool, Smith still wasn’t done and shouted “Keep my wife’s name out of your f—ing mouth!” multiple times.
While a few people have argued that the joke was in a bad taste as it mocked Jada’s medical condition, the Oscars have witnessed far more offensive jokes in the past. However, most popular figures have defended Chris Rock, as physical assault is never the answer to a joke, no matter how offensive it is.
Why The Academy Should Take Away Will Smith’s Award?
After the pandemic, 2021 was finally a glorious year for movies that celebrated inclusivity, diversity, and the differently-abled. From movies like CODA to King Richard, this year was a triumph for the marginalized people. What could have been a night to celebrate the legacy of two of the greatest female black athletes was sadly hijacked by Will Smith’s embarrassing outburst and his insecurity. In a year where a deaf actor (Troy Kotsur), a black queer actor (Ariana DeBose), and a female director (Jane Campion) took home the prestigious Academy Awards was overshadowed by a narcissistic, egoistic maniac. Moreover, Smith did not even apologize to Chris Rock during his award speech.
Though the actor has since then released an apology statement on his Instagram handle, many people have found it to be a publicity stunt to salvage his image. Even more embarrassingly, Smith tried to justify his actions by alluding them to Richard Williams, the father of Serena and Venus Williams.
Since this incident, many people have argued that Smith’s award should not be taken away as there have been a lot of previous winners who have committed even more heinous deeds. From Roman Polanski to Kevin Spacey, the Academy hasn’t stripped away the awards from actors, directors, and producers who have been convicted for terrible crimes. However, physically assaulting a comedian on a live stage with sheer impunity and taking home an award just minutes after the incident reeks of privilege that transcends Will Smith’s status as a black actor. Instead of indulging in whataboutery to defend Smith’s actions, the Academy should set a precedent to ensure that comedy as an art form cannot be silenced, even if it offends multi-millionaires. A night that could have been a triumph for inclusivity and diversity was eclipsed by a rich man’s insecurity.