The Sorry Saga of the Smith Smackdown Continues

By Ed Martin Report Archives
Cover image for  article: The Sorry Saga of the Smith Smackdown Continues

Like millions of other people, I wish the Will Smith/Chris Rock incident had not occurred earlier this week during ABC's telecast of the 94th Academy Awards. I don't watch glitzy awards shows with the goal of increasing my anxiety … especially not now. While opinions on the quality of the show vary widely, as they generally do, I think we can all agree that it was great to see the annual celebration of movies looking very much like its old self after last year's COVID-compromised presentation. And like millions more … many millions … I realize that there are far more important and unnerving things going on in the world right now than the sorry spectacle of a massively wealthy and powerful movie star behaving badly. But damn … there is just no shaking this one.

The fact that this story has been second only to ongoing coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has dominated most infotainment shows since Sunday hasn't helped. Plus: The memes keep coming. (I've been looking at most of it, along with continuing coverage on the internet and social media.)

It's a shame that Smith's display of amped-up toxic masculinity is the primary takeaway from the Oscars telecast, because there was so much for virtually everyone to feel good about. I'll single out Questlove receiving an Academy Award for Summer of Soul as Best Documentary Feature. (I would argue that it was the Best Picture of 2022.) What a shame that I was too engaged with Twitter at the time to really hear his acceptance speech, since it happened moments after the smack.

I think what bothers me (and millions more) the most is the fact that if any of us did anything like this (that is, commit a violent crime in front of more witnesses than we could count, all of it clearly caught on video) we would likely have been escorted off the premises at the least (quite possibly in handcuffs) and spent some time in jail (or at least at the local police station) at worst. Instead Smith, the offender, was allowed to stay in the theater, was comforted by his privileged pals (none of whom stepped forward to offer support to his victim, and most of whom would a short time later give him a rousing standing ovation), was not arrested or detained after the show and apparently enjoyed a high-profile party or two after the fact.

It was my intention to write at length about the Smith Smackdown, as it has been called (even though Smith was the smacker and Chris Rock the smackee). But everything I want to say has already been said in any number of places. I call your attention to two in particular: Will Smith Did a Bad, Bad Thing, the latest Substack post by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Should Will Smith Be Allowed to Collect an Oscar After He Slapped Chris Rock? by NPR's popular television critic, Eric Deggans. Really, these guys say it all.

As for me, I have quite a few lingering questions. Most of them have been asked elsewhere, but since we don't yet have answers, I'll simply ask them again.

Is it possible that the LAPD will never bring charges against Smith? (Rock need not file charges for this to happen.) Surely, they wouldn't be that catastrophic for him. His behavior was actionable, but not felonious.

Does Smith's wealth and position in Hollywood dictate that he live above the law?

Should the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences have allowed Smith to accept his award at the ceremony, as if nothing had happened? Does that count as sanctioning violence?

Will the Academy cancel his award? There is quite a debate raging over this one, but surely something more than a slap (pardon the expression) on the wrist is called for.

If not, can we ever again trust the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to do the right thing?

And what about all those Hollywood luminaries who blather on and on whenever they have the chance to do so condemning violence in all its forms? They accepted it and later applauded the wrongdoer on Sunday. Should we ever again take to heart whatever they have to say about anything?

I'm certain Rock is in demand, but will the entertainment industry continue to keep Smith fantastically wealthy by casting him in their projects?

And the greatest question of all … simply because it is so mysterious:

What happened between the time that we saw Smith laughing hysterically at Rock's seemingly spontaneous G.I. Jane joke (which wasn't very funny, and could actually have been taken as a compliment to Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, if you think about it) and, a few seconds later, his assault on Rock? Smith didn't appear to simply be pissed off (though Pinkett-Smith sure did). Rather, he seemed to be full-on enraged, especially when he returned to his seat and screamed at Rock. Twice. With f-bombs. And then later wept as he accepted his award and attempted to ameliorate the situation with a lengthy emotional speech that seemed better prepared than those typically given by winners.

During my career I had the opportunity to casually chat with Smith and Rock on separate occasions, both long ago. They would never remember, but I will never forget. They were both approachable (many stars are not). They were both attentive (many stars are not). They both made unhurried conversation (many stars do not). But above all, they were both very nice, and uncommonly polite -- especially Smith.

To summarize my reaction to the "incident": It wonders me.

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