THB #108: Oscars in Pieces: Piece 2
And now… Mr. Smith Goes To Stupidtown.
Whatever Will Smith thought of Chris Rock’s off-the-cuff joke, there were a variety of ways to handle it aside from what he did.
He could have just shouted from his seat, “That wasn’t funny… my wife has Alopecia… lay off!”, which would still have been wildly inappropriate for a live broadcast, especially one where you were expecting to win, essentially, a lifetime achievement award for one film you were in.
Chris Rock would have most likely have been apologetic, expressed that he did not know and did not intend harm, and the evening would have gone on. The interruption would still have been Twitter fodder, but nothing close to what it has become.
Smith could also, as an sane, sober person in his position would, remained silent and dealt with it in private after the show, perhaps tweeting out for public consumption a reminder that his wife has Alopecia and it’s not a joking matter.
Instead we got this…
This ain’t no Mudd Club… no CBGB’s… this is the Oscar show.
As I write this (4:51p pdt), Will Smith has released his apology note onto Instagram, as one does.
As with all things show business, there is the surface reaction and the subtextual reaction.
On the surface, this is nice enough, though I still have a problem with him continuing to blame his behavior on his feelings about his wife. He is a 53-year-old man who has had enormous good fortune in his life, including having a wife who is still as driven and is, for lack of a less colorful word, fierce at 50. And kids who are also remarkable, even if they act likes kids (especially rich kids) sometimes do.
On the subtext, it is so profoundly cynical that it makes me sick to my stomach.
If he meant this, he could have Insta-ed it out last night from the Vanity Fair party where he danced the night away with the terribly abused Jada, within hours of the assault. But he didn’t.
Didn’t wake up early to do it this morning.
Just after 4 in the afternoon, here it is. PRed up, lawyered up, adjusted to just the right tone. It’s much smoother than most hostage letters. But it is so clearly manufactured, I can’t really see it in any other way.
Maybe he believes this. Maybe he doesn’t. No one but him and his closest people really know.
We do know this. Jada is a public person, not a non-pro wife being dragged into the spotlight against her will. She is a public figure. In the last 5 years, on top of her Red Table Talk YouTube series, she has been a regular on a TV series, acted in 3 movies, guested on The Equalizer, and been an Executive Producer on 5 feature films, including King Richard.
And on Red Table Talk, which has been a platform for her to publicly share very intimate details of her life that few actors ever do, including her concerns about losing her hair. She started discussing it publicly in May 2018.
By a September 2021 episode of Red Table Talk, after she shaved her head - “It was just time. I was just ready for that kind of expression and release. I’m so glad I did it. It was such a beautiful experience and such a freedom. I feel more connected to myself and to the great diving in a very special way. I was just like, ‘I’m over it.’ It was that moment. I was just like, ‘I’m done. I’m just done with the worry. I’m done with the care. I’m just done.”
Moreover… this is what she looked like last night…
Maybe she is still more sensitive to this situation than she let on when she spoke about how freeing it was on her show, but I don’t think the list of women (some men too) that would kill to look that beautiful at 50.
Rock’s joke was not the equivalent of making fun of Liza Minnelli in the wheelchair, rambling on.
Rock’s joke was quite a multiple less offensive, in my eyes, than Regina Hall questioning the issue of fidelity in the Smiths’ relationship earlier in the evening. You may feel differently. (Mileage may vary.)
Regardless… Will Smith is the man of action here. Five actions at the show, by my count.
1. The Slap
2. The first “Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth!”
3. The second “Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth!”
4. The acceptance speech, in which he made the excuse that he was trying to be a protective father, just like Richard Williams. Plus, he didn’t apologize to Chris Rock or really seem to take responsibility, except in the most perfunctory way.
5. Went out partying in public the rest of the night, like nothing had happened.
Now, I’m not Ryan Murphy. I don’t know how people behave when they lose their minds and then continue on, expecting the world not to have changed.
And none of us know what the publicity team told Will after the incident. There is the very real, very Hollywood possibility, that he was told that his on-stage apology was enough and that he should relax and enjoy his win and no one would be talking about this by Wednesday.
It is also very possible that the publicist did something like that to calm a situation and to placate her very powerful client until they could come up with a better response… all the while hoping it would not explode as it has.
So I tend to disregard the whooping it up at the Vanity Fair party. Because if he wasn’t told/believed everything would work out and he kept dancing so joyously, he probably needs to be institutionalized.
But the actions during the show remain deeply shocking.
Will Smith isn’t Charlie Sheen. He isn’t Kanye. He isn’t even an attention hog like Sharon Stone used to be.
He is so in control of himself, normally in public, that some people find him fake. Much as there used to be a fire or a car accident or some such calamity that Tom Cruise could intervene in and “quietly” save the day (back in the Pat Kingsley days), we expect Will Smith to have the biggest smile and clap way too hard for everyone else all the time, often throwing his body around like he is having a fit of some kind.
That Guy, got out of his seat, on national television during a live television show, knowing they were on air, and slapped another performer across the face, with all the physical force he could muster. over a softball joke about his wife looking like Demi Moore at her movie star height.
Then… he got back to his seat. And the other performer tried to lower the temperature, making a joke out of it, “Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me.” He got a laugh.
Then Smith screamed at the top of his lungs, on live worldwide television, “Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth!” A threat. With the word “fucking” in it.
“Wow, dude. It was a G.I. Jane joke.”
And again… still airing live as far as he was concerned, “Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth!”
“I’m going too… okay?”
You can see the wheels in Rock’s head. You can hear his starting to respond as he would like to respond. He had some kind of line that would have buried Will Smith deeper, perhaps causing more physical violence. He stopped himself. And moved on.
Perhaps Rock might have noted that the slap was less hard than expected and that he would be okay so long as the Williams sisters didn’t come to slap him… then he would be on the floor for sure. Or not.
But Chris Rock, having been smacked in the face, was pro enough to do what Will Smith could not. Will Smith was the lesser man.
I can tell you from personal experience, Chris Rock can be pretty damned salty in real life. I first saw him perform when I was co-producer of a benefit in NY in the mid-80s and he was still closing with “Bitch, paint my house,” and slamming (not dropping) the mic on the stage before exiting. He was a kid. But he has been a consummate pro for a long time now. He is not the kind of comic who would attack someone who he thought was ill. The laugh is not worth it… to expensive. He is not Dave Chappelle, looking forward to hearing his audience squirm.
I don’t think The Academy should even consider taking his Oscar from him. It’s not commensurate punishment. But he should never be allowed in the Oscar theater again, even if he is nominated.
I don’t see any upside to taking away his Academy membership. He doesn’t need it. He’s still Will Smith.
Stand-up comics will handle the whole Rock/Smith issue as they will, internally and with brute comic force and love. The African-American community will figure out their position/positions… I would be completely inappropriate discussing the black man slapping a black man issue. Women will decide for themselves whether this was an act of love or an act of toxic masculinity.
Studios will be a bit more wary of banking on Smith, though to be honest, he is not nearly as bankable as he once was. I was one of the very few writers who would clearly place him as the #1 box office star in the world for a number of years (and Eddie Murphy a lot closer than he was given credit for.) There was a long while there when $300m worldwide was, for a “Will Smith Movie” a bottom. But when Pursuit of Happyness does over $300 million, you are a walking cash machine. Not anymore. He has had 4 $300m+ hits in the the last decade and none of them were driven primarily by Big Willie Style. Three-quels to Men in Black and Bad Boys, one of an ensemble in Suicide Squad (I do think his fame contributed), and the live-action Aladdin, driven obviously by the cartoon, and with a surprisingly mediocre performance by the once #1 movie star in the world.
Mostly, I hope he gets help. He needs help. That whole thing was temporary insanity, made worse by endless entitlement.
I have no idea if he thinks he needs help. I have no idea what kind of help he already gets. I have no idea if Jada thinks he did the right thing or is embarrassed.
I know nothing.
But I do know that Paddy Chayefsky is floating around somewhere, happy that he already wrote this kind of insanity and sad that he is not here to write the sequel, in which The Academy starts sussing out talent that is likely to behave erratically during the live Oscar show, driving them to ratings success.
But for now, I offer to Will Smith the Paddy reason not to do that shit. “You’re on television, dummy.”
Until Piece 3… in which I will actually get into the awards and the award show…