A bad punch line and a smack on the face

You’ve probably heard by now about THAT slap. 

On Sunday night comedian Chris Rock joked about actress Jada Pinkett Smith’s shorn head at the 2022 Oscars, saying: “Jada, I love you. I can’t wait for GI Jane 2” – referencing the 1990s movie that saw the lead character famously shave her head. 

Her husband, fellow actor Will Smith, laughed at first but Jada appeared unimpressed, rolling her eyes. She has previously revealed her struggles with alopecia, a condition that results in severe hair loss. Smith then marched onto the stage and struck a visibly shocked Rock in the face before returning to his seat, shouting twice: “Keep my wife’s name out of your f****** mouth!”. 

The fallout was immediate with many celebrities calling Smith out. It was later revealed that event organisers asked Smith to leave but he refused to do so. The academy, which hosts the Oscars, said it has initiated a formal review of the incident and disciplinary proceedings. Action could include being suspended or expelled – like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. The academy could even revoke his Oscar, or make him ineligible for future awards. Smith won’t face any legal consequences as Rock decided against pressing charges. 

Smith shortly afterwards won the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Richard Williams, father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena. He apologised to the academy in his speech and the next day to the Williams family and to Rock saying his behaviour was ‘unacceptable and inexcusable’. 

Rock was widely praised for de-escalating the situation in the moment but called out for his insensitive joke. The incident has shone the light on the free pass comedy has had in making jokes at the expense of other people. He has said he will respond in time to the incident. 

And sadly, the altercation has overshadowed important awards on the night: a historic win for the deaf cast of Coda, a film about a deaf family that snapped up the best picture of the night amid other awards. There were other important wins for diversity too, and Smith himself picked up his first Oscar. It’s a pity he let his emotions get the better of him. As Denzel Washington apparently told Smith on the night: “At your highest moment, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you.”

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 31 March  2022. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.