About two and a half hours into an already off-kilter show, things at the Oscars got drastically weirder when Best Actor nominee Will Smith slapped presenter Chris Rock across the face for making a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith.
After the comedian made a crack referring to Pinkett Smith as G.I. Jane—the actress currently has a shaved head, like the character Demi Moore plays in the 1997 film of the same name—Smith, according to an uncensored video of the telecast, yelled at Rock to keep “[his] wife’s name out of [his] fucking mouth!” A visibly flabbergasted Rock announced that he was, indeed, slapped, exclaiming, “Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me!,” before somehow continuing to present the nominees for Best Documentary Feature.
This reaction by Smith for a seemingly light joke made by someone who is not only familiar with the couple, but also starred with Pinkett Smith in the Madagascar franchise, struck many viewers online as odd and even possibly a scripted bit gone wrong. But last December, Pinkett Smith revealed that the decision to shave her head was not totally voluntary, as she struggles with a common hair-loss disease for Black women called alopecia. But Rock also has a history of poking fun at Pinkett Smith, particularly on the Oscars stage, that may piece at least some parts of this puzzle together.
The last time Rock hosted the awards ceremony was in 2016, also known as the year of #OscarsSoWhite. Pinkett Smith had previously announced in a video that she would be boycotting the Oscars, after her husband was snubbed for his performance in the film Concussion. Rock took the opportunity to poke fun at Pinkett Smith, snarkily asking, “Isn’t she on a TV show?”
“Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties,” the host continued. “I wasn’t invited.” The Hollywood—mostly white—elites in the audience burst into laughter.
A few minutes later in the broadcast, Smith addressed the altercation when he won Best Actor, confirming that it was driven out of anger.
“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” began his tear-filled speech.
“I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people,” he continued. “I know to do what we do, you’ve got to be able to take abuse. You’ve got to be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, 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.”
For decades, the Smiths have endured plenty of rumors, criticism and jokes about their marriage, which has seen extramarital affairs or “entanglements” and, according to Smith during his recent book tour, is open. Even during the beginning of the Oscars telecast, co-host Regina Hall, a friend of Pinkett Smith’s, lightly joked about the two not being monogamous.
While Smith seemed remorseful in his speech, it certainly won’t be the last we hear about his attack on Rock and what exactly led up to the slap. One thing’s for sure—Rock will never crack a joke at Pinkett Smith’s expense again.