LOS ANGELES, CA – Amid plummeting ratings over the past several years, the Oscars’ 2022 awards ceremony could finally be considered a “smash hit” after actor Will Smith – who would go on to win the Best Actor award later in the evening – shockingly walked onto the stage and slapped host Chris Rock across the face after he made an unflattering joke about the former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s wife.
During a monologue on Sunday night’s show – held in Los Angeles, California – Rock was pointing out several celebrities in the audience and poking fun at them; at one point, he noticed the shaved head of Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and made what some considered a slightly unkind joke.
“Jada, I love ya,” Rock said, pointing her out. “G.I Jane 2, can’t wait to see it.”
The camera cut to Pinkett-Smith immediately frowning at the quip; the actress actually suffers from alopecia – hair loss – although it is unknown if Rock was aware of her condition at the time. In the same camera frame, her husband could be seen initially laughing at the joke.
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But Smith’s mood must have soured quickly, as within seconds he briskly walked onto the stage towards the Oscars host, who exclaimed “Uh-oh!” while laughing. Rock’s laughter didn’t last long, however, as Smith – who was up for the Best Actor award for his role in 2021’s King Richard – hauled off and slapped him across the face on live television.
Rock was stunned by the shellacking, nervously laughing while exclaiming,
“Wow…wow. Will Smith just smacked the sh*t out of me.”
But the audience initially seemed confused, wondering if the slap was actually a prank of some sort.
All doubt was removed from the situation, however, when Smith – once again seated – began screaming at Rock, drawing a chorus of stunned gasps from the audience.
“Keep my wife’s name out your f**king mouth!”
Smith bellowed, angrily looking down his nose.
“Wow, dude…it was a G.I. Jane joke,” Rock tried to explain.
“Keep my wife’s name out your F**KING MOUTH!” Smith repeated, yelling even louder.
“I’m going to,” Rock replied, and – before pivoting and continuing with his presentation – awkwardly laughed and noted, “That was the greatest night in the history of television.”
Later in the evening – in an ironic moment that Hollywood’s best scriptwriters couldn’t have come up with – Smith would go on to win the Best Actor Oscar for King Richard, in which he played Richard Williams, the father of tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams.
During his tearful acceptance speech, Smith described himself as a “protector” of the people he loves.
“I know to do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse and have people talk people about you,” he said. “In this business, you gotta have people disrespecting you. And you gotta smile and pretend that’s ok.”
Smith also appeared to apologize for the fracas earlier in the evening, equating his behavior to Richard Williams, who he described as “a fierce defender of his family.” However, no direct mention was made of Rock.
“I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees,” he said. “Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things.”
The Los Angeles Police Department later confirmed that Rock would not be pressing charges against Smith for the televised assault, but noted that Rock could still change his mind.
Some are speculating that Smith could possibly have his Best Actor award – he was previously nominated for 2002’s Ali and 2007’s The Pursuit of Happyness, but King Richard represents his first win – taken away as punishment for his actions.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which runs the Oscars, has very strict code of conduct regarding behavior, which states that they are “categorically opposed to any form of abuse, harassment or discrimination,” and that there is no tolerance for “people who abuse their status, power or influence in a manner that violates standards of decency.”