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Op-Ed: No Matter What Else May Be True About That Oscars Moment, Will Smith Was Not Wrong

March 28, 2022

You didn’t have to watch last night’s broadcast of the 94th Academy Awards to know that some s*** went down between Will Smith and Chris Rock. Between hot takes, reactions, and the actual clip of the incident, it’s likely been all over your timeline. And by Monday morning, the moment had been discussed on every American news broadcast. 

It wasn’t pretty. And the reactions have been widely varied.

Those of us who are constantly encouraging and demanding that everyone – and maybe Black men more than anyone else – #ProtectBlackWomen, applauded Will. Jada Pinkett Smith has alopecia, which is why she’s been rocking a baldie for almost three years. You may not have known it before last night, but it’s definitely something she’s discussed. According to People, she dedicated an entire 2018 episode of Red Table Talk to the topic of hair loss. She’s since dedicated several Instagram posts to it, including a December 2021 breakdown on why she’d chosen to go completely bald.  So this was about more than just awards show jokes. Rock was playing about Smith’s wife’s health.

But then there is the multitude who are reading more into the situation than what it appears to be on the surface. Some are insinuating that Rock bore the brunt of Smith’s frustration about all of the jokes made about his marriage over the last two years. Others, that his reaction speaks to the state and fragility of the Smith’s marriage and/or Will’s mental health.  A third camp is arguing that this incident is proof that Will is, has been, or has the potential to be an abusive spouse or parent. And some are calling this an act of toxic masculinity that did more to embarrass and undermine Jada than it did to protect her.

White people are appalled: crying on social media that Will should be in jail for assault (Rock didn’t press charges, by the way), wondering why he wasn’t escorted out, asking that he be stripped of his Oscar. (Oh yes, Will won his first Oscar last night too.) This means Black people are mortified at him for airing family laundry in front of company.

All of these are valid reactions. But here’s why Will wasn’t wrong: in case you haven’t gathered from the many clips and stories about social media pranks gone wrong, everybody don’t play how you play! And anyone who’s willing to play with people like that – be it jokes, pranks, whatever – should always be prepared for the human reaction.

Yes, Will could have handled it differently, but he had a human reaction after years of having people disrespect him and having no choice but to take it because of Holywood, as he said in his acceptance speech

This entire incident was wholly out of character for Will, which is why most people watching couldn’t even tell if the moment was real or scripted. It’s also why Tyler Perry and Denzel Washington pulled Will to the side during the very next commercial break.

And you can tell by the fact that he apologized to everyone BUT Chris, that regardless of what consequences may come: he said what he said.