It has been dubbed by many as “the slap heard ‘round the world.“
By now, pretty much anyone with a beating pulse is aware of the fracas that occurred during the Academy Awards on Sunday night, where Will Smith assaulted Chris Rock and yelled at the comedian to “keep my wife’s name out of your [expletive] mouth!“
The internet has been in overdrive ever since.
As is often the case when two high profile celebrities are involved in controversy, sides were quickly taken and lines were firmly drawn. There were those who rallied to the defense of the A-list actor for his chivalrous defense of his wife. Others were firmly casting their empathy with Rock, seeing him as unfairly and violently attacked by an out-of-control movie star.
Immediately following the incident, Smith was consoled by Denzel Washington, Bradley Cooper and Tyler Perry, according to reporters in the theater. Later during the telecast, when he was announced as the winner of the Best Actor award for his role in the film “King Richard,” Smith spoke of love and grace” and shared the advice that Washington dispensed to him: “In your highest moments, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”
The Smith-Rock imbroglio has brought up all sorts of topics to discuss, including toxic masculinity, the angry Black man stereotype, Black-on-Black violence, and celebrity entitlement.
For example, would Smith risk slapping a larger, stronger guy, like Dwayne Johnson, or a powerful white male celebrity, such as Tom Hanks, if they had made the same joke? Highly unlikely. Moreover, in the case of the latter, would he have gotten away with it? More than likely, at the very least, he would have been escorted from the ceremony and possibly arrested, whether the aggrieved party had decided to press charges or not.
Some, including Kathy Griffith (no stranger to controversy herself) and other comedians, fear Smith’s antics has opened the door for them to become targets from mentally unbalanced fans, who may suddenly believe they have free license to attack a performer who upset them, regardless of reason. Perhaps this is true for a few people, but it is highly unlikely that we will see large numbers of comedians being attacked by unhinged audience members.
More than a few Black people believe that such an embarrassing incident involving two Black men could negatively impact upon the larger Black community. My response to such thinking is not at all! Does the behavior of one white person represent or reflect the actions of all white people? Of course not. The same applies to Black people or any other race or group of people.
Will some people attempt to equate Smith’s behavior with the false stereotype of the undisciplined, dangerously violent Black man? Of course they will. That being said, these are the individuals who have always harbored perversely misguided perceptions of people they deem as the “other.“ In most cases, they have done so by choice.
Quite frankly, it’s a waste of time obsessing over what men and women who hardly have your best interests in mind think of you. Such dehumanizing thoughts benefit no one, including racists. Will Smith’s actions are solely a reflection on Will Smith. Period.
Drama aside, there may be a silver lining for this entire episode. The Oscars may finally turnaround its increasingly sagging ratings and become must see television in 2023.
Copyright 2022 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate
Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.