The Slap Echoes the Morning After the Oscars, Raising Questions

The morning after the Oscars tends to be dominated by lighthearted celebrations of the night’s winners and admiring chatter about the fashion on the red carpet, but on Monday it was given to a more somber discussion of the disturbing spectacle that dominated the night: Will Smith striking Chris Rock onstage after taking issue with one of his jokes.

On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” George Stephanopoulos described it as “something we have never seen before, something that is very hard to process: Will Smith, walking up onto that stage after Chris Rock told a joke about his wife — simply assaulting Chris Rock.”

The Academy put out a statement saying that they do not condone violence, but Stephanopoulos noted they “have not taken any other action yet.”

“It changed the entire night,” the anchor Robin Roberts said.

The show cut to a correspondent in Los Angeles, T.J. Holmes, who said “it was ugly, it was embarrassing, it was confusing.” And despite all the awards history that was made on Sunday, he lamented, “here we are, leading off the show, and the story of the morning is about one man assaulting another on the Oscars stage.”

The powers-that-be at the Oscars had been intent on not repeating last year’s record-low ratings, putting a series of changes in place they hoped would draw more viewers: installing a trio of comics as hosts, pretaping some awards to try to quicken the pace, introducing a fan-favorite award that viewers could vote on. But this year’s broadcast became must-see television for a reason they did not anticipate.

“Welp…I said it wouldn’t be boring #Oscars,” Will Packer, one of the show’s producers, tweeted after the show.

The incident unfolded after Rock made a joke about the closely-cropped hair of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who has alopecia, a condition that leads to hair loss. At first some shocked viewers wondered if the blow might have been part of the show. After all, the previous two hours had been filled with gimmick after gimmick — including a bearded Wanda Sykes in short-shorts and knee-length socks, dressed as Smith’s character from “King Richard,” a performance for which he soon won an Oscar.

But when ABC cut out the sound, forcing audiences to lip read Smith screaming at Rock to keep his wife’s name out of his mouth, the reality of the situation settled in.

Comedians, who tell uncomfortable and sometimes offensive jokes for a living, raised concerns about the precedent Smith had set.

“Let me tell you something, it’s a very bad practice to walk up onstage and physically assault a Comedian,” Kathy Griffin tweeted. “Now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theaters.”

The moment seemed to leave the Academy organizers stunned and uncertain of how to proceed; after delivering the blow, Smith returned to his seat, remained in the theater and then collected his trophy for best actor to cheers. In his speech Smith apologized to the Academy and to his fellow nominees but not to Rock, and defiantly sought to draw parallels to the character he played in “King Richard,” the fiercely protective father of Venus and Serena Williams. He got a standing ovation.

“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” he said.

At the after party, David Rubin, the president of the Academy, was reluctant to take a position on what had transpired, saying, with a wave of his hands, “Still unpacking.”

Representatives for the Academy did not immediately respond Monday morning when asked whether Smith would face repercussions for striking a presenter. At least one member of the Academy, Marshall Herskovitz, a former president of the Producers Guild of America, called for Smith to face disciplinary action.

The Los Angeles Police Department said it was aware of what it described as an incident involving “one individual slapping another” at the Oscars. The police said the person involved had “declined to file a police report.”

“If the involved party desires a police report at a later date,” the police said, they would move forward and “complete an investigative report.”

Rock has teased the couple from the Oscars stage before. In 2016, when the Smiths boycotted the awards show because the nominees in the four acting categories were all white, Rock, the show’s host, joked about it. “Jada says she not coming, protesting,” Rock said that year. “I’m like, ain’t she on a TV show? Jada is going to boycott the Oscars — Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”

Smith was not deterred from celebrating his win on Sunday night, dancing at a crowded after-party while holding his trophy but avoiding questions about the incident.

Jaden Smith, one of Will and Jada’s children, tweeted simply: “And That’s How We Do It.”

But the reaction inside and outside Hollywood ranged widely. In interviews after the show, at after-parties and on social media, Smith’s colleagues variously expressed sadness, confusion, disbelief, anger and, in some cases, empathy. Many deflected or ignored questions about the episode entirely.

The actor Mark Hamill called it the ugliest Oscars moment. “Stand-up comics are very adept at handling hecklers,” he wrote on Twitter. “Violent physical assault… not so much. #UgliestOscarMoment_Ever.”

Others seemed to defend Smith. “Many takes on here about Will Smith and Chris Rock, especially from people whose partners are not Black women (mainly white people),” the author Frederick Joseph tweeted. “I don’t care if it’s a joke or not, the amount Black women have to endure — people are tired of it. We have no idea what Jada has gone through.”

The comedian Tiffany Haddish, who starred in the movie “Girls Trip” with Pinkett Smith, said in an interview with People Magazine at the after party that she appreciated seeing Smith protect his wife.

“And maybe the world might not like how it went down,” Haddish said, “but for me, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen because it made me believe that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives.”

One top studio executive, who declined to speak on the record, voiced disappointment in Smith, and in the fact that the audience in the theater gave him a standing ovation.

But the morning after, much of the reaction was still one of disbelief.

“We’re not sure where the fallout will end up,” Ryan Seacrest said Monday on his morning show “Live With Kelly and Ryan.” “It was one of those moments that we couldn’t believe when we saw it.”



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