Everyone seems to have a different take on the incident, in which Smith walked onstage and slapped Rock after the comedian made a tasteless, unfunny joke about Jada Pinkett Smith. Twice, Smith yelled, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!”
In the hours since, the discourse has been an even bigger nightmare than anyone could have imagined. (Just ask Judd Apatow.) But as the tweets and takes continue to pour in, one curious narrative keeps resurfacing. Sure, this is a low point for the Oscars. But is it really the worst in the show’s history?
Some seem to think so. Mia Farrow branded the spat “Oscar’s ugliest moment.” Gold Derby senior editor Marcus James Dixon said it was “probably the grossest thing I’ve ever seen on an Oscars telecast.” In the same discussion, his colleague Rob Licuria wrote, “The now-infamous Smith/Rock altercation will go down in history as one of the worst moments of live television ever. What does a moment like this mean for our culture, or for society? Is violence the answer when we are offended?”
But the idea that Smith somehow brought violence to the Oscars only holds up if you maintain a narrow definition of that word. Consider the 2003 Oscars, a carnival of nightmares that included Adrian Brody forcing a kiss on Halle Berry and a standing ovation for Roman Polanski. (The Polish director could not be present that night to accept his Best Director trophy because he’d pled guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.) Hattie McDaniel—who in 1940 became the first Black Oscar winner for her role in Gone With the Wind—sat at a segregated table on the night she accepted her historic award. And convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein, whose sexual misconduct was reportedly an open secret in Hollywood for years, is one of the Academy’s most awarded producers.
Violence, it seems, does have a place at the Oscars, so long as it doesn’t disturb the show. But speaking of the show itself, was that not a low point this year as well?
Once again, it appears the people who make the Oscars might actually hate the Oscars—or at least view people who hate movies as their target audience. Our hosts took turns making fun of the films nominated for Best Picture, a tradition that might not grate as much if the Academy had not also decided to cut eight technical categories out of the live show and edit them down. The telecast, which included an extended promotion for the Academy Museum, nonetheless ran 39 minutes over—and included appearances by such film luminaries as BTS, Shawn Mendes, Tony Hawk, and Shaun White.
However Rock and Smith sort things out, that slap was far from the only low point in Sunday’s show—or in this awards show’s notably messy history.