Photo credit: Robyn Beck/Getty Images/AFP
Will Smith and Chris Rock. Slapgate. The slap heard ’round the world. A man defending his wife. Toxic masculinity. The moment that happened at the Oscars between Smith and Rock has many names by now. We are also all sick of it. However, I have a few things I want to say.
It’s been a week since Smith slapped Rock at the Oscars for making a joke in poor taste about Jada Pinkett-Smith. Rock’s joke, comparing Pinkett-Smith to G.I. Jane because of her shaved head, seems like it could be a not so sly reference to Pinkett-Smith’s alopecia. Two days into the media’s coverage of the slap, I had already had enough. As someone who works in the media who has to write about entertainment stuff for a living, I had already hit peak-Slap coverage.
But my quick thoughts on Instagram aren’t even the tip of the iceberg of my feelings about this incident. So I thought I’d put my feelings into bullet points.
1. THIS SHOULD BE OVER. That’s first and foremost. We all should be sick of hearing about Smith slapping Rock. If this happened in real life, like between friends or between people we know in our normal lives, we would of course still be shocked, but eventually, we would digest it and move past it. We would also know or be able to find out what occurred that led to the punch because we could easily ask somebody and use their info to better assess if the slap was warranted (if physical violence is ever warranted). However, Rock and Smith are famous people, outside of any of our friend groups, so we might not ever know everything that went into the slap.
Rock and Smith also don’t figure into our lives on a daily basis. Yes, they’ve both provided us entertainment over the years, but are they our friends? Are they our fathers, brothers, uncles? NO. They are famous men who we believe we know only by what they’ve allowed us to know about them. It’s a parasocial relationship that many people online seem to be taking more seriously than they should. Since the slap has no actual bearing on our lives, we should have lost interest in it by now.
2. Will Smith doesn’t have to be painted as a criminal in order for us to accept that he’s wrong: One of the most bizarre things I’ve seen online is this rush to paint Smith as a top-tier Batman villain just because he did something we didn’t expect him to ever do. It’s one thing to say Smith was wrong for punching Rock. But it’s another thing to act like Smith doesn’t have a resume of a squeaky-clean image of over 40 years. Yes, that image could be completely fabricated, but it’s the image we know, and when it comes to how much this slap should figure into it, it should be treated as a blip or aberration (unless other, more serious things come to light, of course). Treating Smith as a wild and out-of-control person is blowing the entire thing out of proportion.
3. Racist or prejudicial white people need to stay out of this and shut up: Consider this a verbal slap to those who want to paint Smith as some Black violent boogeyman. I know America is a racist country that has proven itself stubborn to change, but shouldn’t generations of white Americans be tired of retreading the same “Black buck” stereotypes whenever a Black man (or woman, to be honest, because our femininity is often forgotten) acts like a flawed human being, outside of a realm of white comfort?
What I brought up in my Instagram video was my frustration with Black people being held accountable for other Black people’s actions. I’m not accountable for Will Smith. I’m an individual with my own mind. So is every other Black person. Just because Smith slapped someone doesn’t make him inherently violent or naturally criminalistic (as the stereotypes go). What it makes him is a man who was taken over the edge by internal and external factors going on in his life and his ego told him he had no other option to keep himself and his wife safe, even if the “solution” his ego gave him was the wrong thing to do. That doesn’t mean Monique Jones is going to slap someone if I feel I’m pushed to the edge. This shouldn’t be difficult to understand, but people are refusing to allow themselves to realize that Black people–and all minorities–act independent of each other, and not for the entertainment or comfort of white feelings. Send this to Amy Schumer.
4. Chris Rock might not be in the all-clear either: Again, to reiterate, IT WAS WRONG OF WILL SMITH TO SLAP CHRIS ROCK. BUT, it’s also wrong of Rock to perpetuate misogyny against Pinkett-Smith, if the rumors that he has been agitated by Pinkett-Smith’s refusal to date him are to be believed.
When The Daily Beast made an article chronicling Rock’s nearly 20 years of harassing Pinkett-Smith with jokes, UK comedian Ava Vidal wrote on Twitter, “When touring the UK big-name US comedians try their material out in small comedy clubs. I was there when Chris Rock did a bit about unrequited love with an actress then burst into tears. We laughed but soon realized he wasn’t joking. The actress was Jada…”
If this is true, then it puts the slap in a different light. While Smith wasn’t right to carry out his slap on the international stage, maybe Rock deserved a slap 20 years ago for allegedly being a creep. The fact that Rock has taken it upon himself to make fun of Pinkett-Smith for so long and still claim to call himself her and Smith’s friend is the definition of hubris. His alleged actions also perpetuate “misogynoir,” the specific targeting of Black women for the sake of demeaning Black women’s humanity. The fact that Rock hasn’t apologized to Jada–remember, Smith slapped him over a distasteful joke directed at his wife–lends more credence to the growing theory that the emotions behind the slap have been brewing for a long time, and that Rock doesn’t respect Pinkett-Smith as a woman with agency.
I will say that I have complicated feelings about Pinkett-Smith. I don’t particularly like some of her actions, and some of the stuff that seemed to happen between her and August Alsina was shady to me, to say the least. But with that said, I will not act like I can’t sympathize with her struggle regarding alopecia. I especially can’t ignore the fact that she might be a target of a spurned man who (allegedly) can’t get over the fact that she (allegedly) refused him, a man who (allegedly) can’t respect that she has the ability to decide who she wants to be with. Regardless of what we think about her, she’s still a human and deserves to be treated with respect. And if Rock (allegedly) can’t respect her, then he needs to be educated.
5. Comedians must be scared because they know they’ve made fun of people’s disabilities: It’s been funny to me to see so many comedians, who have acted big and bad before, now whimpering behind this slap, saying how scared they are to perform for fear of the same thing happening to them. Why is that? I thought comedians could say anything they wanted to as long as they said it was a joke, right? (cue eyeroll)
Comedians shouldn’t have been making ableist, sexist, racist, or otherwise demeaning jokes in the first place. Yes, we have laughed at some of these jokes. But that doesn’t make it right, does it? If that’s true, it doesn’t make it right for the comedians to tell the jokes, either. No one wants to go to a comedy club and have someone you paid to watch make fun of you, then tell you it’s just a joke if your feelings get hurt. When you think about it, it’s a form of acceptable gaslighting because the offended person is often told they can’t take a joke. And Rock did the same when Smith got upset with him at the Oscars.
“It’s just a G.I. Jane joke,” he said. But just because something’s a joke doesn’t mean someone’s feelings can’t be hurt, and it doesn’t mean the comedian shouldn’t take responsibility for the words they said. If you choose to say a demeaning joke, you should be able to accept what comes after, whether that’s applause or, at the extreme, a slap in the face. So perhaps it’s time for the comedians who are scared to say a joke to, I don’t know…learn how to make actual jokes.
6. Ben Vereen and Denzel Washington said it best: Out of every opinion I’ve seen, the two I agree with the most are Ben Vereen and Denzel Washington. Both men called for compassion and understanding in this situation that has become way more complex than it needs to be.
While on The Real‘s April 4 episode (check your local listings), Vereen gave his two cents on the Oscars moment.
They’re both my sons. I was Will Smith’s father, and I’m Chris Rock’s father. So, I’m sitting and watching this, and as a father, I was shocked. Theatrical father, I was shocked. And I don’t know why it happened. I’m not an authority on that, but I know one thing. We as a people must support one another. I’m sorry that happened, and I hope that we get past it, and move on to the direction that we were sent here to do. And that’s to be brilliant. Brilliant. And all I can say is, let’s pray for them. Let’s pray for them. Let’s pray for the families. let’s pray for the Williams family. Let’s keep the good vibes going. That was an incident and I have my personal feeling about it. I think they should have cut, as soon as Will had gotten up. I think the cameras should have cut, and we never should have seen that. But we did. Since we have now, don’t forget the brilliance of the man. My god, Will’s worked so hard. And Chris, he’s worked so hard, to be where they are today. So let us not forget their genius.
While at Bishop T.D. Jakes’ leadership summit Saturday, Washington addressed his moment with Smith after Smith slapped Rock.
“Well, there’s a saying when the devil ignores you, then you know you’re doing something wrong,” he said. “You know, the devil goes, ‘Oh no, leave him alone, he’s my favorite. Don’t bother him.’ Conversely, when the devil comes at you, maybe it’s because you’re trying to do something right. And for whatever reason, the devil got a hold of that circumstance that night.”
“…Fortunately, there were people there, not just me, but others in the gap,” he continued when talking about him and the others who came to counsel Smith after the slap. He also added that people shouldn’t be so quick to judge Smith.
“Who are we to condemn?” he said. “I don’t know all the ins and outs of the situation, but I know the only solution was prayer.”
I’d hope we all take a page from these two men and give this a rest while remembering the times we have acted out of character. We’ve all done stuff that makes us cringe when we think back on it. We’ve all done things that have shocked others. Maybe we haven’t slapped someone, but we’ve done something wild.
Hollywood’s move to basically end Smith’s career by putting future projects on the backburner isn’t the answer. Blackballing isn’t the answer (hasn’t Mo’Nique’s situation with Lee Daniels, which has magically ended, taught us nothing?). If we can accept what we’ve done in the heat of the moment, then we should be able to accept that Smith also had a moment in which he snapped.