Will Smith will forever be a household name. He earned his popularity through an early career start with “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (1996). He has grown in his acting journey by starring “Men in Black” (2002), “Shark Tales” (2004), “The Pursuit of Happiness” (2006), “Suicide Squad” (2016) and more. Juggling a mixture of comedic and serious roles, Smith has proved himself to be a capable actor. In 2019, Smith announced that he was starring as Richard Williams in a biopic called “King Richard,” which is about the early start of tennis icons Venus and Serena Williams and their legacy that ensues.
“He’s [Richard Williams] very similar to my father in some ways. I understood what it meant to feel brutalized by the world and to have a dream that nobody believes in but you, and you’re not going to let that deter you. I got the heart of him,” Smith said in an interview with USA Today.
Through all of this time, his name has sparked positivity and pride. Smith could do no wrong, because we could see no flaws in him. Even considering how vocally vulnerable his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, has been on a number of subjects including their marriage, Smith did not seem to have many flaws. He has always been supportive of his family and the people close to him.
Smith was nominated for best actor for the 94th Oscars. He had been nominated two times previously for his role in “Ali” (2001) and “The Pursuit of Happiness” (2006). He had never won the award. Before his category was announced, Chris Rock took the stage to reveal the winner for best documentary. Before announcing the winner, Rock decided to recite a few jokes about audience members who attended the ceremony. Rock made a joke that commented on Pinkett-Smith’s hair style.
“Jada, I love you, ‘G.I. Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it,” Rock said.
Despite initially laughing at the joke, Smith took a look at his wife, who looked unamused. Then he decided to walk up onto the stage and slap Rock across the face.
“Keep my wife’s name out of your f——- mouth,” Smith said after sitting down.
People had mixed reactions after the fact. According to The Telegraph, actors such as MJ Rodriguez, Tiffany Haddish and Jason Momoa supported Smith initially, because they saw a husband defending his wife. Many others felt disgusted by the occurrence or did not know what to think of the controversy.
Pinkett-Smith has a skin condition called alopecia. This condition causes hair loss and there is no cure. To compare Pinkett-Smith’s condition, a situation where baldness was not a choice, to a character who was required to shave her head while serving in the military, was tasteless. Despite the poor joke, that was no excuse for Smith to slap Rock on stage. In the rush of the moment, Rock was praised for keeping his composure. He bounced back after being slapped and announced the winner.
Smith did win his Oscar thereafter. A moment that should have felt triumphant was overshadowed by his confrontation with Rock. Questlove won the Oscar for best documentary for his film “Soul of Summer” directly after the slap. Smith’s lack of self-control affected other winners’ nights. Smith says Questlove’s face still haunts him, and no apology could make up for stealing his moment.
Smith has been mostly quiet for almost a year following the controversy. He wrote a formal apology on Instagram a day after the incident. A couple months later, he posted a video in a Q&A format. He apologized to Questlove, Rock, and Rock’s mother and family. He also apologized to Pinkett-Smith, who was villainized after the slap after being suspected of swaying his decision to assault Rock.
“I spent the last three months replaying and understanding nuances and the complexities of what happened in that moment … there is no part of me that thinks that was the right way to behave in that moment,” Smith said.
More time has passed, and Smith has emerged back into the spotlight to promote his new movie “Emancipation,” which can be streamed on Apple+. He is already receiving Oscar buzz about his portrayal of Whipped Peter. The story is based on the journey of a slave escaping slavery. Peter has a scarred back from being whipped, which was photographed and distributed to showcase the horrors of slavery. There is speculation that the photo created a stir and that it might have been one of the causes of the Civil War.
As he is in the spotlight, he is being interviewed for the first time since the last Oscars. People are eager to gain insight on his journey since the infamous moment.
It is my hope that the slap will not be brought up every time he makes a movie. One action should not define who a person is. Smith had a misstep. I believe that the slap showed his flaws as a human being to the public for the first time in a long time. Smith resigned from the academy soon after the slap and was banned from the Oscars for 10 years. He has apologized multiple times, and he has taken the time and space to grow and heal.
I believe that Smith brought forth a conversation that needed to happen. We needed to understand that it is important to work through our flaws. The emotions that we keep inside can one day boil over. Also, I believe that we hold celebrities to an impossible expectation. We expect them to be perfect or to know better. I believe Smith set the best example by recognizing that he was wrong, accepting his punishment and aiming to do better.
The world has spent time digesting the incident. I believe that it is acceptable to take more time to discuss the slap, especially as the next Oscars ceremony is approaching. But after, I do not feel that it is relevant. I understand that not all of Smith’s fans may see him in the same light again, and may refrain from watching “Emancipation.” But because he has received his punishment from the academy, I do not believe that there is anything else he owes us.
My hope for Smith is that he continues to work on himself, not for his fans but for himself. I believe that the instance that occurred during that Oscars ceremony should not overshadow the brilliant work he has done in the past. It merely shows that Smith is an imperfect person in an environment that expects perfection. He does not deserve to be canceled for a misjudgment of emotion. If this happens more than once, then it’s an entirely different story.
Smith seems sorry, not for public approval, but rather for the underlying effect his actions have had on his community and the people he loves. Trevor Noah sat down with Smith on The Daily Show on Monday. This was his first interview discussing the slap.
“That was a horrific night … and [at] the end of the day, I just lost it … you just never know what somebody’s going through … and I was going through something that night. … Not that it justifies my behavior at all,” Smith said.
At this point, the only person who can meaningfully accept his apologies is Rock. There is no doubt that this occurrence has in some way traumatized Rock. He has been relatively silent since the slap. His acceptance of Smith matters more than any fan’s.
Smith is the type of actor who wants to make movies that empower Black people. I believe that he would have never intentionally slapped Rock knowing the consequences. I am sure he fears he’s failing the Black community. Smith mentions how picky he is when choosing his roles.
“In the early part of my career … I didn’t want to show Black people in that light. I wanted to be a superhero. So I wanted to depict Black excellence alongside my white counterparts. I wanted to play roles that you would give to Tom Cruise,” Smith said in a GQ interview.
With this much passion, it is expected that Smith will not let this situation deter him. We should wait to see if Rock accepts Smith’s apology, not wait until the Oscars ban is over. Hopefully Smith will move forward and upward from this one-time low.