Will Smith stunned millions of viewers during Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony, when he approached the stage and slapped presenter Chris Rock in the face after the comedian made a joke about Smith’s wife, actor Jada Pinkett Smith.
Rock was on the Oscar stage to present the award for best documentary. He began by making a few jokes about members of the show’s audience, including Pinkett Smith—referring to her as “G.I. Jane” due to her closely cropped hair. (Pinkett Smith has spoken in the past about her battle with alopecia).
Though Smith had initially laughed over the joke his decision to change his mind and smack Rock on the face on live television shocked many viewers.
Shortly after Rock made the joke, Smith walked to the stage and slapped the comedian across the face. He then returned to his seat and shouted, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”
At first, watching the telecast, it was unclear whether the assault was a planned bit. But the show’s audio immediately cut out after Smith slapped Rock, then stayed muted as Rock said, “Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me,” while Smith walked away. When Smith yelled from his seat, Rock, still onstage, seemed stunned.
“Wow, dude,” replied Rock “It was a G.I. Jane joke.”
Backstage at the Oscars after the incident, Rock played down his violent encounter with Smith. Per V.F.’s Anthony Breznican, one witness said Rock referenced Smith’s portrayal of Muhammad Ali in the Oscar-nominated biopic about the late boxer. “That’s the only time you get hit by Muhammad Ali and it doesn’t leave a scratch,” Rock purportedly said.
Smith was in attendance at this year’s Oscars to collect the best-actor prize for his performance in King Richard. The actor had been the perceived front-runner for months and won, as expected, on Sunday night. In his tear-filled speech, Smith compared himself to Richard Williams, a man who is also known as “a fierce defender of his family.”
“I know to do what we do, you’ve got to be able to take abuse,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to have people disrespecting you, and you’ve got to smile and you’ve got to pretend like that’s okay.… I look like the crazy father, just like they said.… Love will make you do crazy things.”
He concluded his speech by apologizing to the Academy and to his fellow nominees. “I hope the Academy invites me back,” Smith added.
After a commercial break, cohost Amy Schumer made a quick quip about Rock and Smith. “I’ve been getting out of that Spider-Man costume. Did I miss anything?” she asked as the audience—Smith included—laughed. “There’s, like, a different vibe in here. Probably not. Well, anyway—okay.”
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