If you have internet connection in your dorm (which isn’t always a certainty), you are probably well aware that Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on live television last Sunday at the Academy Awards. The transgression has become a viral moment, populating every corner of the internet, including BC’s very own Herrd. In every classroom, dining hall, and cafe on campus, students and faculty are buzzing about the scandal like it’s the newest high school gossip. However, the spat between the two actors is more than a meme or a controversial bit of hearsay; it is a shocking revelation of the toxic masculinity that seeps itself into every corner of Hollywood and a massive distraction from the actual Oscar winners.
If you are unaware of what went down at The Oscars, actor and comedian Chris Rock presented the award for best documentary, and in his banter before revealing the winner, he made a joke about actress Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith's wife. The joke compared Pinkett Smith to G.I. Jane on the basis of them both being bald headed. However, Pinkett Smith’s baldness is not elective but rather a result of her alopecia. Smith first laughed at the joke, but upon seeing his wife’s displeasure, his demeanor took a turn for the worse. He walked up to the stage and hit Rock across the face before returning to his place in the audience. From his seat, Smith yelled at Rock, telling him twice to keep his wife’s name “out of your f*cking mouth.” The entire interaction lasted less than a couple of minutes but left a stain on the remainder of the broadcast.
Will Smith’s reaction to the joke about his wife’s hair was clearly a spur of the moment decision, an act of passion as many users on Twitter have labeled it. However, this reasoning doesn’t excuse his actions. He is a powerful man who should be held accountable for his outburst, even if there was some merit for his behavior. Later that same night, Will Smith was awarded the Oscar for best male actor. In his acceptance speech, Smith condoned his act of violence by saying “Love makes you do crazy things.” This logic that violence is permissible when it’s in the service of love is the very same used by domestic abusers to defend their actions. It’s notable that Smith grew up witnessing his father’s abuse of his mother, and he vowed to “avenge her.” While Smith’s past explains his actions, it certainly doesn’t excuse them. Violence in defense of one’s spouse is still violence.
Chris Rock is far from blameless here either. The joke made about Jada Pinkett Smith was clearly in poor taste. It’s worth noting that the joke was probably written for him and read off a cue card, but nevertheless, Rock is one of the leaders of his industry; he could and should have refrained from telling it on a live broadcast. In addition to his one-liner making a mockery of Pinkett Smith’s condition, it echoes recurring themes in Hollywood of women being condemned for existing outside the confines of traditional Eurocentric beauty standards. Chris Rock has been slighting Jada Pinkett Smith for laughs for decades now. Over his long career, he’s beaten her down for her activism and past boycotts of the Oscars. Pinkett Smith is evidence that women in Hollywood, no matter their position, will be subjected to the toxic masculinity of their male co-stars.
Clearly, no one comes off as the “good guy” in this encounter, though the internet has been trying to choose a “winner” since Sunday night. But the biggest problem with online discourse surrounding this scandal is that it’s a massive distraction from other events of the night, good, bad, and ugly alike. The film CODA won Best Picture, a massive stride of representation for the deaf community which has never before been seen at the Academy Awards; actor Troy Kotsur became the second deaf actor in history to win an Oscar for his role in the same movie. Without Will Smith’s outbursts, these wins might be making the headlines they so clearly deserve.
Another event of the awards that’s managed to fly under the radar is co-host Regina Hall’s inappropriate and sexually graphic jokes at the expense of young male actors. Hall, who is 51-years-old, invited Bradley Cooper, Timothée Chalamet, Tyler Perry, and Simu Liu to the stage for “random Covid testing”, making clear that it was because all of these men are unmarried and attractive. She also singled out Euphoria star Jacob Elordi, making a joke about him being of legal age despite playing a teenager on TV. Hall proceeded to cite some of the “freaky stuff” she wanted to do (and record) with these actors under the guise of a Covid test. In any other year, these inappropriate jokes would be making headline news, and Regina Hall would be getting serious backlash for them. Thanks to the Times Up and #MeToo movements, Hollywood is in the middle of a push to seek retribution for female stars who’ve been harassed and abused by men in the industry. But it’s not different when it’s a woman harassing men. Male victims of sexual harassment are so often disbelieved and ridiculed, and Hall’s jokes proved that.
Some action has been taken to condemn Will Smith’s actions last Sunday night. The Academy has launched an investigation into his wrongdoing and has threatened to revoke his award, prompting Smith to publicly apologize via Instagram. These new developments have stirred more online debate into the controversy. The continued obsession with this scandal has prevented actual landmark events at the Oscars from getting the attention they deserve. This was a scandal cloaked in toxic masculinity, not an entertaining ploy or reality-tv spat. If you’re tempted to fall down the Twitter spiral and see what Smith or Rock are going to say next, maybe turn on CODA instead and see how much better you feel.