Most people in the UK woke up to the news that beloved Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Will Smith had finally won an Oscar for best actor for his role in King Richard. He won this promptly after hitting Chris Rock across his face.
During the presentation for Best Documentary, award presenter Chris Rock levelled an unnecessary clap at Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett-Smith calling her “GI Jane 2”, comparing her bald head to Demi Moore’s shaved-headed film character GI Jane. Pinkett-Smith suffers from auto-immune disease Alopecia, which causes severe hair loss. Smith took offence at Rock’s lobby and took it upon himself to defend Jada, marching up to cheers from the star-studded audience during Rock’s presentation and striking him across the face, yelling “take my wife’s name out of your f*****g mouth!” when he was sat down again.
Pinkett-Smith has been extremely open about living with her hair loss, proudly displaying a buzzcut in mid-July last year and absolutely rocking it. In a candid Instagram post last December, Pinkett-Smith shared her thoughts on her alopecia, saying “me and this alopecia are going to be friends.” In red Table talks, she often discusses the horrifying moment she was in the shower and realised her hair was falling out.
Chris Rock’s attack was unnecessary and cruel, and you could see a pained smile across Jada’s face when the joke was made. Will Smith, however, was filmed laughing. Interestingly, the academy chose to centre Will in the centre of the reaction shot to Rock’s jab and not Jada, the actual victim of the jab. It must have become clear at some point to Will Smith that Jada didn’t find the joke very funny, because his mood very promptly changed.
There is a longstanding history of conflict between Will Smith and Chris Rock and the jab made at the expense of a traumatising auto-immune disease made it feel like Jada was a pawn in a grudge match between the two men, Jada was thrown under the bus so that Smith could look heroic in front of the academy.
The reaction surrounding Smith’s strike shows that it was incredibly polarising. Tweets jokingly reading “Every girl texting her man “if somebody made fun of me at the Oscar’s would you slap them??”’ gaining over 53000 likes shows that most people took it in jest. Following the show of male violence, Will Smith won Best Actor and in his tearful acceptance speech, he apologised for his actions, saying that “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people,”
It didn’t sit right with some people, Wayward Wonder @Bibbeldee tweeted in response to his acceptance speech saying “every survivor of domestic abuse heard their abusers voice in Will Smiths acceptance speech. Violence is never acceptable”
While it is widely acknowledged that what Chris Rock said was unacceptable and cruel, many believe that the way Will Smith acted was worrying. Acting violently on public television only perpetuates the idea that women cannot stand up for themselves and violence is needed to deescalate a situation. If anything this slap just shows young boys that violence is the answer, and it will happen while you get cheered on by Hollywood elites. Will Smith won his Best Actor role for playing the father of Venus and Serena Williams, while this should have been a powerful moment for strong women, it was swamped by discourse surrounding a show of male bravado.
Someone jarringly missing from the slap discourse is Jada herself, remaining stoic and silent on the joke which directly opposes her husband and son who tweeted “Whelp” and “That’s How We Do It” respectively on the matter. Jada’s silence says a thousand more words than a slap ever would.
While Jada and her daughter Willow, who has also shaved her head in solidarity carry on rocking their buzzcuts, they show women all around the world that beauty is not skin deep and having long hair isn’t a sign of femininity. In my opinion, there’s nothing braver than proudly fighting feminine beauty standards. As always, men will have their opinions, jokes and outbursts, but Jada has made alopecia her own and that’s far braver then a slap ever will be.