Like the rest of the world, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes as I watched Will Smith slap Chris Rock on arguably the world’s biggest stage. Because attention is the most valued currency in our modern world with the dominance of social media, my mind instantly thought this must be staged.
But I watched it again and the emotions are were too raw. I know Will is a good actor, but nothing could hide the emotions that he displayed when he was shouting at Chris.
I recently read Will Smith’s memoir that he had released earlier this year. I didn’t know much about Will Smith, nor had I watched many of these movies with maybe the exception of Shark Tale. Yes, tragic I know.
But, like when you read any celebrity’s memoir you like to think you get a good idea of who that person is and their character.
One trend that was consistent throughout the book was Will’s self-identification with being a coward. His Mum had been beaten up by his Dad at the age of 9 and he had laid witness to it. He recalled feeling immense fear and feeling unable to fight to protect his Mum.
From that day on, no matter how much money he made or how many achievements he accumulated throughout his career feeling like a coward haunted him wherever he went.
I believe that the fear of being perceived by himself and others as a coward must have played a role in his actions on Sunday night. A male abusing a women that he cares about is a clear triggering point for him because of his childhood.
From this perspective, it makes sense why he ‘slapped the shit out of Chris Rock’ after he called his wife GI Joe. Because he didn’t want to be perceived as a powerless child again.
Does that make his actions okay though? Not at all.
My Opinion: Practice What You Preach.
After recently reading Will’s memoir and watching several podcasts he has featured on I became fond of Will Smith and his character. Here is someone from Philadelphia who had been physically abused as a kid and had turned shit into sugar. How can you not respect that?
On the train from Leeds to Manchester, I listened to the podcast Will did with his mate and former monk, Jay Shetty.
Will talked about forgiveness being the antidote to violence and abuse. He recalled forgiving his Dad and visiting regularly him when found out he had 6 weeks to live. For him forgiving his Dad’s abusive ways was how he managed to make peace with a lot of his past trauma.
I took a lot of inspiration from his perspective on forgiving those that do you wrong because it was motivated by a care for other people. I remember he said that when you forgive someone you don’t only hold a mirror up to the person and their behaviour, but you show them, love. And he wisely said that people who ask for love in the most unloving ways need the most love.
His actions on Sunday night showed a complete divorce from those values that he preached on the podcast with Jay Shetty. That’s why I lost respect for Will because from reading his book and listening to multiple podcasts, I got the impression that he was someone that not only spoke eloquently but someone who embodied these strong values.
On the other hand, I understand that Will never claimed to be morally perfect and that we all lose touch with our values at certain points. Additionally, it’s hard for spectators to comprehend the pressure that comes with being in the public eye like Will Smith.
But, I find it hard to understand how someone could diverge that far away from the values that he preaches to millions.
Is Chris Rock To Blame?
For me Chris Rock’s words were insensitive. There’s one thing to make a joke about someone’s appearance when it’s a fashion choice or something that they could change.
But when you comment on an aspect of their appearance that is caused by a medical condition you start to enter murky waters.
The other side of the coin is that Chris Rock is a comedian and his job is to make jokes that test the boundaries of what is permissible to say and what is not. So, there is an argument to say he is simply doing his job and he happened to test the wrong person that night.
Did Will Slap Chris because of Jada’s response?
Initially, Will Smith looked like he found the Gi Jane joke funny. While the cameras were pointing at him, he was laughing, while his wife Jada rolled her eyes.
Give or take 15 seconds later, he’s marching toward Chris with a stern look on his face.
What I haven’t worked out yet is whether Will slapped Chris because Jada put pressure on him to speak out. Or did he take it upon himself to look like a man who wouldn’t tolerate any disrespect? It’s hard to know in the space between the slap and joke the cameras turned back on Chris Rock.
Part of me thinks Will Smith was pissed off at the joke but complied with fake laughter because that’s the convention at formal events like the Oscars. I think he was probably acting on instinct (anger) instead of logic and seeing his wife’s face was fuel to his already blazing fire.
Insecurity in their marriage?
I have seen opinions along the lines of… Will’s reaction was to compensate for the problems they have in their relationship. Their marital problems are no secret to the public after Jada had an affair and publicly revealed that their sex life was unsatisfying.
With all these factors combined and the public nature of their relationship, it would not be farfetched to say that Will was trying to be perceived as a man who was trying to be someone who is in control after she had cheated on him.
Yes, I would say the slap was a strong sign of toxic masculinity. Although some men are flocking to Twitter to defend Will’s defence under the premise that ‘anyone would protect their wife’, I don’t think that sticks.
The context of the joke was a in an event where jokes are made by anyone indiscriminately not in the street by a harassing stranger.
The slap seemed to be motivated not out of love for Jada, but a combination of personal and relational insecurity and fear about coming across as a weak person to his wife and the world.
But under the circumstances of the Oscars he did not come across as a strong male role model. He came across as someone with a fragile ego. A better course of action would have been to laugh it off in the moment and take it up with Chris Rock in private.
My Final Verdict?
We are all human and we all make mistakes. And yes, we hold celebrities like Will Smith to a higher moral standard than we hold ourselves. So, this should be taken into account. But should his actions be condoned? Absolutely not. Condoning these actions is a bad precedent to set for all the younger (and older) generations who look up to Will.
Since Sunday, Will has issued a statement apologising to Chris Rock and taking responsibility for his actions. But is this too little too late? Maybe.
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