Slapping the Competition: The 94th Oscars

The 94th Oscars, Although Meant to be a Celebration of Film Achievements over the Past Year, was Quickly Overshadowed by a Conflict of Actors.

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photo by Madison Loucks

Gannon Figueroa ‘24 watches and reacts to the video of Will Smith getting on stage and hitting Chris Rock. The incident happened after Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith’s wife, which prompted Smith to get on stage and hit Rock.

by Ben England and Madison Loucks

The Oscars this year were a hit! Literally. The 94th Oscars were live-streamed on ABC, March 26. Actresses, actors, and film legends gathered to witness this night of recognition for the entertainment industry. Celebrating and recognizing films released in 2021, the Oscars were met with immense anticipation. Films such as Dune, Coda, and The Power of the Dog were recognized for their accomplishments. Troy Kotsur from Best Picture Winner, Coda was met with a powerful ASL clap as he won Best Supporting Actor, and hosts such as Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, and Regina Hall took the stage to present this night of entertainment. Dune won the most Oscars of the night after sweeping almost all visual and sound categories and winning six academy awards. 

One of the more notable occurrences of this year’s Oscars ceremony was the moment Oscar nominee and later winner, Will Smith, walked onstage and slapped Chris Rock straight across the face on national television. 

“I watched [the Oscars] afterward. If the incident didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have watched.” Payton Dozios ’22 said. 

After comedian Chris Rock took the stage to introduce the cast of the Godfather for the 50th anniversary, he was joking around with members of the audience. After some lighthearted humor directed to other members of the audience, he made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith’s wife. Having a condition called alopecia, where losing your hair is a common side effect, Pinkett Smith had recently shaved her head and embraced this hair struggle for her 2022 Oscar look. In reference to her newly shaved head, Rock mentioned the popular 90’s movie, GI Jane, saying that Smith’s wife resembled the main character who also had a shaved head. “GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see it,” Rock said. 

“I am on Will Smith’s side because he was just standing up for his wife. Chris Rock made an insensitive joke and I think it crossed the line.” Ellie Thompson ’23 said. 

While some audience members initially laughed at the joke, the atmosphere of the room quickly shifted to an uncomfortable tone, as Will Smith marched up on stage and violently reacted, hitting Rock in the face. After being slapped, Rock attempted to mitigate the situation by resuming his speech and announcing the award, but was met with Will Smith’s shouts from the audience, telling Rock to “Keep my wife’s name out your f****ng mouth!” 

Across U.S channels, the broadcast audio was cut off and audiences at home couldn’t make out what Will Smith had been screaming. Shortly after, however, the original sound was posted, tweeted, and released all over the internet, as the broadcasts in Australia and Japan had not been muted. 

Reactions across the nation vary as some people support Smith’s actions in standing up for his wife and others take the side of Chris Rock claiming it was just a joke and do not support Smith’s violent outburst. The controversy has swept the nation and will likely go down in Oscar history. 

“I think it’s bad behavior on Will Smith’s part because you just can’t act that way in a public setting, especially on TV. I think the joke might’ve gone too far because of her [Jada Pinkett’s] condition, but they do always make jokes with people in the crowd,” Drew Lukowski ‘23 said 

Since the show, Smith has apologized both in his speech and on social media to the Academy, and Jada has also broken her silence on the events. On the other hand, Chris Rock’s sales for his comedy shows have spiked, selling more tickets overnight than it has in the last month, according to @TickPick on Twitter. 

“I don’t think it’s about ‘sides’ necessarily, but instead showing respect on all levels, from both sides. The joke was insensitive and uncalled for, and Will Smith shouldn’t have reacted physically. Ultimately I’m on Jada’s side,”  Lily Mulstay ‘24 said.  “As a woman having a shaved head, I sympathize with her struggle and frustration. Will Smith’s incentive to stand up for her was nice but physical action was wrong and did more harm than good.”

Ultimately, the Oscars is a celebration of the power of film; it is a night to recognize the talent and hard work of entertainers and producers. Nonetheless, this is a night that will go down in Oscars history due to the controversy.