It was the slap heard around the world.
As Chris Rock presented the award for best documentary feature at the Oscars Sunday night, the comedian made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith and her lack of hair. Rock said he couldn’t wait to see Smith star in “G.I. Jane 2,” referencing her shaved head.
Pinkett Smith said last year she went bald after daughter, Willow, encouraged her to do so. Pinkett Smith said she has had alopecia, which results in severe hair loss, since 2018.
At first, husband Will Smith seemed to laugh at the joke, but then got up and hit Rock in the face as he stood on the stage. Rock appeared to be in shock, and Smith sat back down and said, “keep my wife’s name out of your (expletive) mouth,” twice.
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The feed from ABC appeared to cut off for many viewers during the incident, but international broadcasts picked up the entire moment, with Rock saying, “Will Smith just smacked the (expletive) out of me.”
The moment seemed to stun not only those inside the Dolby Theatre, but also celebrities watching at home. Whoopi Goldberg, who is an Oscar winner for “Ghost” and has hosted the show four times, told her co-hosts on ABC’s “The View” Monday that Smith “overreacted,” although she believes “it was a lot of stuff probably built up.”
“I get it, not everybody acts the way we would like them to act under pressure. And he snapped,” Goldberg said. “Sometimes you get to a point when you behave badly. I myself have behaved badly on occasion.”
Goldberg, who is also a member of the academy’s board of governors, predicts that the Oscars will not strip Smith of his honor, as the organization launches an investigation into the incident.
“We’re not going to take that Oscar from him,” Goldberg said on “The View.” “There will be consequences I’m sure, but I don’t think that’s what they’re going to do, particularly because Chris said ‘Listen, I’m not pressing any charges.’ ”
Other celebrities took to Twitter Sunday night and Monday morning to express both support and disappointment.
“I love Chris Rock. I don’t think he would’ve made that joke had he known what Jada recently shared,” rapper Nicki Minaj said, explaining in multiple follow-up tweets what she imagines the “pain” of living with alopecia to be like for women and how a “real man” will defend his wife as Smith did.
“Violence isn’t ok. Assault is never the answer,” “One Tree Hill” star Sophia Bush tweeted. “Also? This is the 2nd time that Chris has made fun of Jada on the #Oscars stage, & tonight he went after her alopecia. Punching down at someone’s auto-immune disease is wrong. Doing so on purpose is cruel. They both need a breather.”
“Will Smith owes Chris Rock a huge apology,” director Rob Reiner said. “There is no excuse for what he did. He’s lucky Chris is not filing assault charges. The excuses he made tonight were (expletive).”
“It was just a joke,” wrote actress Mia Farrow, adding, “What I saw was one of Hollywood’s most powerful movie stars stalk onto a stage to strike a comedian for an unfortunate joke about his (gorgeous) wife’s shaved head. Anyone who is OK with that has probably never been hit by a powerful man. As we advise our kids, ‘use your words.’ “
“Stand-up comics are very adept at handling hecklers,” said “Star Wars” vet Mark Hamill. “Violent physical assault… not so much. #UgliestOscarsMoment_Ever.”
“Let me tell you something, it’s a very bad practice to walk up on stage and physically assault a Comedian,” stand-up comic Kathy Griffin wrote. “Now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theaters.”
Former late-night host Conan O’Brien made light of the situation on Twitter, writing, “Just saw the Will Smith slap. Anyone have a late-night show I can borrow just for tomorrow?” “Queen & Slim” star Jodie Turner-Smith, meanwhile, said that she has “second-hand embarrassment for all involved.”
Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s son, Jaden Smith, simply wrote, “And That’s How We Do It” shortly after the incident occurred.
In a since-deleted tweet, writer/director Judd Apatow was highly critical of Smith’s actions. He suggested that Smith “could have killed” Rock with his slap, and noted the Smiths have been the targets of jokes their entire careers: “They’ve heard a million jokes about them in the last three decades. They are not freshman in the world of Hollywood and comedy. He lost his mind.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, who like Pinkett Smith, also has alopecia, similarly tweeted and deleted her thoughts.
“#Alopecia nation stand up! Thank you #WillSmith,” Pressley wrote. “Shout out to all the husbands who defend their wives living with alopecia in the face of daily ignorance & insults. Women with baldies are for real men only…boys need not apply.”
Pressley later posted a Twitter thread about living with alopecia, saying she does not “endorse violence in any form” and is “Team Jada always.”
Actress/comedian Tiffany Haddish, who co-starred with Jada in “Girls Trip,” also came to Smith’s defense, describing how his response “meant so much” to her.
“As a woman, who has been unprotected, for someone to say, ‘Keep my wife’s name out your mouth, leave my wife alone,’ that’s what your husband is supposed to do, right? Protect you,” Haddish told People magazine after the show.
“And that meant the world to me. And maybe the world might not like how it went down, but for me, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen because it made me believe that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives.”
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As people were still trying to figure out what happened, Smith won his first Oscar for best actor in “King Richard.” Smith didn’t directly speak about the incident during his acceptance speech, but he did say, “I hope the academy invites me back.”