Best Actor Oscar winner Will Smith apologized to the universe and Chris Rock on Instagram on Monday for the b**ch-slap seen around the world at the Academy Awards show on Sunday night. It was insufficient to the offense.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences should take back the golden statue from Smith and award it to whoever drew the second-highest vote total for Best Actor.
It's a fitting penalty for Will Smith’s role in one of the most stunning and angry moments ever seen live on the Academy Awards show.
Chris Rock, a great comedian, was presenting onstage and ad libbed a joke about the buzz/bald haircut worn by Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith.
Moments later Smith — a brawny 6-foot-2 actor who plays superhero roles — strides up to Chris Rock and smacks him hard in the face with the open palm of his right hand.
The New York Post ran a full-blown Page One photo of it under the headline, "Best Smacktor." Deck: "Finally, Oscars are a Smash Hit!"
After taking the blow, Chris Rock stalled to recover, and then showed great poise and presence to continue for five more minutes with his presentation: best documentary.
What a pro, and as for Will Smith: what a jerk.
He should have been arrested for misdemeanor assault. Instead, he was asked to leave but refused, and he sat back down with his wife at the very front, smiling through the overdose of adrenaline coursing through his bloodstream from what he had just done.
Smith had just ruined one of the greatest nights of his own life. A short time later he won Best Actor for his role in "King Richard," but many will remember only one thing: that face-smack.
In his acceptance speech, Smith apologized tearfully to his fellow nominees and the Academy without mentioning why — and without apologizing to the man he had just humiliated in front of millions of witnesses.
On Twitter, many people sided with Smith, even regarding his outburst as being noble.
My view is different, and here's why it is:
At age 12, I smart-mouthed my dad in front of his girlfriend and her son, and he smacked me across the face so hard it made my eyes water. It felt humiliating and hurtful, and infuriating, especially so because I couldn’t hit back.
Toxic masculinity note: when one man punches another in a fistfight, it is as equals.
Slapping the face of another man with your open palm is a way of belittling him, as if he is too unmanly to require a closed fist.
It is why the term "b**ch-slap" is used. Some other points on this kerfuffle:
- If the jokester at the Oscars had been Jason Momoa, the chiseled, 6-foot-4, 234-pound star of "Aquaman," Will Smith’s reaction would have been remarkably different.
- If any mere "Joe Sixpack" had done what Will Smith did, he would be in jail as we speak. Unless the Academy Awards were in New York City, in which case he would be home by now.
- Be thankful this was Black-on-Black, just one man vs. another. Imagine the recriminations if Will Smith had struck a white comedian or, worse, a white actor had slapped Chris Rock. It would have been reported as a racist incident when it wasn’t.
- Will Smith fans defended him because his wife has a medical condition that causes hair loss. Yet nothing justifies a violent response, and if Rock had no idea of her condition, Smith was even more out-of-line.
- Rock’s joke was clever without being cruel. Jada Pinkett-Smith wore her baldness beautifully and proudly, as Demi Moore did in the film "G.I. Jane." Rock joked about the film and the haircut, not her medical condition, contrary to media reports.
Will Smith should call Chris Rock personally, mano a mano, and make amends.
By apologizing directly, Will Smith can heal himself — he must be reeling from shame and embarrassment this week.
Anger turned outward is the real enemy. Anger shortens your life, wrecks your relationships, and hurts your career.
Cue the Disney song: "Let It Go." Will Smith could have chosen to just let it go.
Dennis Kneale, @denniskneale on Twitter, is a writer and media strategist in New York. Previously, he was a senior editor at The Wall Street Journal, the managing editor of Forbes, and an anchor at CNBC and Fox Business. Read Dennis Kneale's reports — More Here.
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