Can We Still Like Will Smith While Being Horribly Disappointed By Him?
I'm surprised at the many responses to the Slap attributing the significance of the reaction as being due to anger, and specifically racially-driven anger.
For the record, Will Smith is one of my favorite actors and has been since the 1990s. I love his swagger, the strength of character he brings to his roles, and how he becomes the person he portrays, and he's always impressed me as a good person. I've seen all of his movies, even the bad ones. I’m not mad at Will Smith. I’m disappointed in him. He blew a reputation built on 30 years of being in the spotlight in 30 seconds. He has seriously damaged his reputation by his actions, and I honestly don’t see how he can fully recover… he will never return to being the pre-Slap Will Smith.
Let’s talk about the purported justification for the assault: Chris Rock’s joke. “Jada, ‘G. I. Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it!” Why did it work, why did even Will Smith initially laugh at it? Because Jada is a very fit, very attractive woman. The joke would not have worked if she wasn’t very fit. This was teasing her, not making fun of her. What if she’d stood up, flexed, and then maybe even yelled Demi Moore’s famous line of defiance (if you’ve seen the movie you know what it is)? EVERYONE would have laughed with her, even Chris Rock! Instead, she rolled her eyes and then looked at Will in expectation that HE do something. Is she such a shrinking violet that she needs a violent response from a man to assuage her feelings, this same strong, independent woman who bares the intimate details about her marital and family issues on video for the world to see?
Smith's actions that night exposed an ugly aspect that I didn’t think he had: he bullied Chris Rock because he could, because he was sure he'd get away with it, that there would be no consequences for The Hollywood Icon Nominated For Best Actor. That was not a good look, regardless of race. No one likes a bully. And yet, he seemed to gauge the consequences correctly, having other Icons like Denzel Washington and Bradley Cooper comfort him, and indeed cater to him... yet who went up to Chris Rock and congratulated him on his poise? Smith made it worse by apologizing to everyone but the person he wronged, only doing so after the magnitude of the harm he’d done to himself finally sank in. He should have apologized to Rock at the beginning of his acceptance speech. He should never have assaulted Rock in the first place. And, the Oscars audience should not have given him a standing ovation or any ovation absent a sincere apology to Rock.
Can we talk about the elephant in the room? I don't believe Smith hit Rock because of that relatively inoffensive joke; something else is going on in his personal life that made him overreact. There are a lot of rumors and some controversial confirmations around the Smith marriage, and certainly Smith was not a happy camper when he and Jada addressed her affair with August Alsina at her Red Table… he held her responsible to where he demanded she stop the obfuscation and admit the truth publicly, but then had to sit and hear her say she did nothing wrong, that she had been unhappy for a long time and did it to “feel good.” How humiliating to have your wife tell the world that she had to look to another man to find satisfaction and that she had no regrets over it. Maybe Chris Rock was a stand-in for the person Will Smith wanted to slap, maybe this was some misguided effort to win approval as the man in his wife’s eyes… Smith did say that “love makes you do crazy things” later that evening. Regardless of the reason, it was simply wrong and unacceptable.
I get that people admire and respect Will Smith… I do too, but my admiration and respect has significantly diminished since the Slap. At the same time, my admiration and respect for Chris Rock, also one of my favorite actors and comedians and a truly talented individual, has increased. It takes a lot of courage to be a man, keep control of your temper, deal with the situation, and continue to do your job… talk about grace under pressure! What is dismaying about the response to the Slap is how many people are excusing Smith’s actions and blaming the victim! Nothing that Rock said justifies Smith’s actions much less excuses it.
The Academy will act against Will Smith because he has given them no other choice. Actors simply cannot resort to violence against a presenter. My bet is that Smith will not be allowed to attend future Oscar awards ceremonies in any capacity, and he will likely never again be nominated for an Oscar because of the implicit veto that has arisen as a consequence of this unseemly act. That is too bad, but often what defines someone is not their best actions, but their worst... and that is a shame.