Unscripted Drama at the 2022 Oscars


About halfway into this year’s Oscars, presenter Chris Rock, an actor and comedian, made a joke about Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Pinkett Smith has alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss, which has recently led her to shave her head completely.

Rock likened her to G.I. Jane, a female character from a ‘90s film who served in the Army and also had to shave her head. Though many found the comment slightly out of line, Rock made it clear that it did not level with other hard-hitting jokes told throughout his career. Smith even seemed to be enjoying the bit; the camera found him chuckling in approval immediately after Rock’s comment.

When the broadcast showed Rock again, however, Smith was seen abruptly approaching him. And, perhaps channeling his inner G.I. Joe, Smith slapped Rock across the face. Smith returned to his seat and proceeded to scream profanities at Rock before the Oscars production team finally cut the sound to the broadcast.

On a night when Smith’s ability to play characters on a movie screen would later be rewarded, he put into question his own character and whether he deserved to be honored by the Academy.

Freshman Michael Gray said, “There’s a time and place and way you can deal with something like that, and Will made a very poor decision.”

His sentiment was shared by junior Ethan Mullens, who recognized that while Rock might have been out of line, “It didn’t justify Will publicly smacking Chris Rock.”

The slap is more than just one uber-famous celebrity slapping another—it’s a damnation of the morality of the Academy as a whole. In an article published in Variety, actor Harry Lennix said that Smith should return the award he received. “The only person who can redeem the integrity of the Oscars is Smith himself,” Lennix said.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ultimately decided to ban Smith from attending the Oscars for the next 10 years, but what kind of message does it send if the Academy chooses not to revoke the award? Is it now acceptable to slap any person who insults you or your family and face no real consequences?

As Lennix said, the only person who can reconcile this is Smith himself, but he also must redeem his own character. He must prove that he is not just another egotistical actor who can’t take a joke. He must prove that he is the man to whom the Academy thought was deserving of the Best Actor award.

If Will Smith does not return his Oscar, he faces the likely reality that his career will not be defined by his breathtaking roles in film and television, but rather by a slap.