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Will Smith’s slap and Oscars ban, briefly explained

What the American Oscars telecast cut from the Will Smith-Chris Rock confrontation.

Will Smith slaps Chris Rock on stage during the 94th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, on March 27, 2022. 
Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Will Smith has been banned from the Oscars for 10 years after slapping Chris Rock live on camera during the award show, the New York Times reports.

The incident came in the final hour of an otherwise sleepy Oscars telecast on March 27. Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Smith took the stage and slapped him. Minutes later, Smith won his first ever Oscar.

“I did not know this was gonna be the most exciting Oscars ever,” marveled Diddy shortly after.

“This action we are taking today in response to Will Smith’s behavior is a step toward a larger goal of protecting the safety of our performers and guests, and restoring trust in the Academy,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said in an open letter on April 8. “We also hope this can begin a time of healing and restoration for all involved and impacted.”

Smith, who resigned from the Academy on April 1, said in a statement, “I accept and respect the Academy’s decision.”

Here’s what happened.

Chris Rock was appearing at the Oscars to announce the winner for Best Documentary. In the leadup to announcing the nominees, he went through a little comedic patter about some of the nominees, and his attention appeared to snag on Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, sitting in front in a green gown with a shaved head.

“Jada, I love you,” Rock said. “G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it, all right?”

Pinkett’s face went stony, and Smith got to his feet, marched onto the stage, and slapped Rock in the face. The audio of the US broadcast went out at that point, but it continued uncensored in other countries, including Japan and Australia.

“Wow! Wow!” said Rock, swaying slightly as Smith strode back to his seat. “Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me, everybody.”

“Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth,” Smith shouted from the audience.

“Wow, dude,” said Rock. “It was a G.I. Jane joke.”

“Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth,” Smith repeated.

“I’m going to. Okay?” said Rock. He paused for a second, double-taking, and the audio in the US came back again just in time to catch him saying, “That was the greatest night in the history of television. Okay. Okay.” Then he went on with presenting the Oscar (which went to Summer of Soul, directed by Questlove).

Just minutes later, Smith won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in King Richard, in which he played Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena Williams.

“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” Smith began as he took the stage. “In this time in my life, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world.”

Smith wept throughout his speech, which ranged from a defense of his actions to apologies to the Academy to an exaltation of Richard Williams.

“I want to apologize to the Academy,” he said. “I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment. And I’m not crying for winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me. It’s about being able to shine a light on all the people.”

Smith went on to say that he wanted to “lift up” the stories of people like Richard Williams, who protected those he loved.

The following Monday, Smith posted an apology to Rock on Instagram. “I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris,” he wrote. “I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.” At a comedy show that Wednesday, Rock seemed to imply that Smith has not reached out to him personally.

Also that Wednesday, the Academy issued a statement saying that Smith was asked to leave the Oscars ceremony Sunday night and declined to do so. “Things unfolded in a way we could not have anticipated,” the statement said. “While we would like to clarify that Mr. Smith was asked to leave the ceremony and refused, we also recognize we could have handled the situation differently.” But the next day, TMZ reported that sources present at the ceremony claimed Smith was not asked to leave the Oscars, and was invited to stay by producer Will Packer.

Pinkett Smith has been diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease that results in hair loss. She first went public with her diagnosis in 2018 on her Facebook Live show Red Table Talk.

“It was terrifying when it first started,” she said at the time. “I was in the shower one day and had just handfuls of hair in my hands and I was just like, ‘Oh my god, am I going bald?’”

In July 2021, Pinkett Smith shaved her head, saying her daughter Willow convinced her “it was time to let go.”

Rock is familiar with the vexed politics surrounding Black women’s hair. In 2009, he produced and starred in the documentary Good Hair, about how Black women have historically thought about and styled their hair.

Rock has also targeted Pinkett Smith in his Oscars humor before. When Rock hosted the Oscars in 2016, it was in the midst of the #OscarsSoWhite protests, and Pinkett Smith was one of many major Black celebrities who had committed to boycotting the Oscars to protest their lack of diversity.

“Jada got mad, said she’s not coming. Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited,” Rock said.

In a statement to The Wrap, the LAPD said Rock declined to file a police report on Smith.

“Art imitates life,” Smith said during his acceptance speech. “I look like the crazy father, just like they said. But love will make you do crazy things.”

Update, March 31, 2022, and April 8, 2022: This story has been updated to include statements from Will Smith, Chris Rock, and the Academy; Will Smith’s resignation from the Academy; and Will Smith’s 10-year ban from the Oscars.

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