After making a joke about Jada Smith’s haircut and saying she was prepping for “G.I. Jane 2”, Will Smith walked up onto the stage and hit the performer right in the face.
I honestly don’t know where to start with this.
I may have to update this later if charges are filed, (you can file within six-months), but tonight, Chris Rock’s loved ones saw him take a blow to the face in front the elite of Hollywood and no one lifted a finger in his defense. Worse, the Oscars are recorded and filmed in front of millions of people; and millions more, (like me) will see this clip replayed multiple times. And it will never completely go away. If you’ve never been hit in the face and felt the shock, or the helplessness of someone hurting you and everyone just ignoring it, then keep that in mind as you watch the clip.
I wasn’t watching the Oscar’s tonight, and I think the decline in viewership means most everyone else wasn’t either. But everyone’s going to be talking about them for a while now because this is big news. I’m sure this photo and the video of Will Smith walking about onto a stage in front of crowd, televised audience, family and God, and “smacking the shit” out of Chris Rock, (Rock’s words), will be all over the news for the next week. At least. It’s not just the slap, but that Will wasn’t arrested AND he stayed to win an Oscar later in the evening! At best, Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry went over to Will to talk to him, but that’s pretty far off from should of happened, or would have happened if this wasn’t Will Smith.
Let’s cover some basics:
California Penal Code Section 242 PC: Battery
1. Definition and Elements of the Crime
Battery under California Penal Code Section 242 PC is a frequently-filed criminal offense that involves any intentional and unlawful physical contact on another person. Battery is often discussed in connection with the offense of assault under California Penal Code Section 240 PC, however these are two separate crimes composed of their own individual elements. To prove a charge of battery, a prosecutor must be able to establish the following elements: - The defendant intentionally and unlawfully touched another person in a harmful or offensive manner. - AND the defendant did not act in self defense, in defense of someone else, or while reasonably disciplining a child. The slightest touch can be enough to satisfy the battery statute, if it is done in a rude or angry manner. Making any contact with a person, even if it is just through his or her clothing, is also enough to violate the statute. The touch in question does not have to cause pain or injury. In addition, the physical contact can be made on something closely connected to a person. For example, if a person is holding an object or riding a bicycle and another person strikes the object or the bicycle, that person could be charged with battery in both incidents because of the close connection between the physical object and the other person.
Pretty cut and dry: what Will did was definitely assault. Just watch a video of it and listen to the crowd get incredibly silent and uncomfortable the moment they realize it’s real and not staged.
But this is also going to be the first sticking point: defining “defense of someone else”, because the first headache in all this was that he didn’t like Chris Rock’s joke about Jada looking like she’s filming the next “G.I. Jane” due to her short haircut. Depending on who you talk to, that could be defined as an assault, or hate speech, etc. I certainly don’t believe that it meets the standard to be called “Hate Speech” or “Assault”, but that’s going to be one of the big debates over the next few weeks, because if you believe that it’s just a joke, then Will was way out of line. If Rock’s joke IS considered hate speech or assault, then Will’s act becomes defense of someone else. Expect this to be hotly debated over the next few weeks. Personally, I think that justification is thin; as a performer, he knows what it means to be on stage; as a human being, he knows about violence and the right and wrong ways to use it.
Now, for the Academy: I couldn’t find a specific rule, but I did find a quote from 2017 during the Weinstien scandal.
For this we need to go back to 2017, when the organization made a clear stance against misconduct after the industry sex abuse scandal. AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson wrote to members via Variety:
“Academy membership is a privilege offered to only a select few within the global community of filmmakers,”
“In addition to achieving excellence in the field of motion picture arts and sciences, members must also behave ethically by upholding the Academy’s values of respect for human dignity, inclusion, and a supportive environment that fosters creativity,“ she continued.
“There is no place in the Academy for people who abuse their status, power or influence in a manner that violates recognized standards of decency. The Academy is categorically opposed to any form of abuse, harassment or discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, age, religion, or nationality. The Board of Governors believes that these standards are essential to the Academy’s mission and reflective of our values.”
Walking up during the Oscars, the most visible and public moment the Academy has, and smacking the host on live television very likely violates “recognized standards of decency”. Up until now, streakers on stage and bad chemistry between hosts were the weirdest things to happen on stage. (5 of the Weirdest Things to Ever Happen at the Oscars (cheatsheet.com) Now we’re in a whole new territory.
We also come to problem two: no one came to Chris Rock’s aid when this happened. No one filed a police report, and even knowing that Will Smith was a winner later in the night, the production team just kept rolling and didn’t appear to change their night in any way. The Academy is in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” spot with this. By not acting against Will, it can be seen that because Will Smith is a powerful figure who just brought more attention to the Oscars then they’ve had in two years, and that they are still awarding a guy who is brazen enough to attack another member on public TV. If they do remove Will from the Academy or sanction him somehow, they’ll still be hit with the question of why they didn’t immediately act and why they still handed him an Oscar that night. If they continue to do nothing, it looks as though they don’t care, and if they do something, they’ll be judged that it was too much or not enough.
Where do I sit on this? I’m shocked he wasn’t arrested the second he got back to his chair. Chris Rock is a comedian, and this was an award show for performers who understand the nature of comedy and acting. Will Smith has been in the game for decades and has certainly joked and roasted others before. There is no excuse; this isn’t the 1800’s where they’ll be pistols at dawn to demand satisfaction, or the Wild West where we punch and shoot our way to justice. I completely understand Will’s desire to guard his wife’s feelings, but this wasn’t somebody’s backyard barbecue, or a billiard table at the bar, or schoolyard. Everyone walking in that door tonight understands the difference between reality and performance.
To be honest, how this is handled is going to say a lot about Hollywood. Can you imagine if Ryan Reynolds had walked up and done that? Or what would have happened if the host had been Billy Crystal and Will had done that? This wouldn’t have been right if it was two white guys, two Asian guys, two green aliens or any combination you could put together. At some point, we have to recognize human decency and where we cross the line. Will definitely crossed that line. This isn’t about race, but it might end up being about power if Will squeaks by with no punishment.
Here’s the question: “If this hadn’t been Will Smith, would this have gone differently?” I think the answer is actually yes; I think the only reason he wasn’t immediately approached by cops afterwards is because he’s a mega celebrity. He’s in the AAA tier. Because it was Will Smith at the Oscars, no one there knew how to handle it, even though the process was probably crystal clear.
Did Chris Rock cross a line, first? Did he “deserve” it? – No.
I’m not an expert on victim blaming. But I am familiar with the Oscars, and when they’ve had comedians host, part of the joking can occasionally be roasting the audience sitting in front of them. Even if this wasn’t a group of performers who were sitting there, would an audience member in a comedy club coming up to the stage and smacking the comedian be acceptable? No. So why would this be acceptable here? Part of Chris Rock’s job as host is to entertain; there is an understanding between performers and the audience. Will and Jada didn’t like the joke; I get that. Was it in bad taste? I don’t think so, but that doesn’t really matter: there are times and places you can let performers know that what they said hurt you. Walking up on stage and hitting the performer isn’t it.