Why Did Will Smith Slap Chris Rock at The Oscars?

Carla St. Louis

Will Smith hits Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards.Reuters

March 27 - The slap heard around the world all started with a joke. The audience, along with comedian Chris Rock, were left completely stunned after actor Will Smith walked onto the stage and slapped Rock during the live taping of the 94th Academy Awards.

Apparently, Smith took offense to the comedian's joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith's appearance.

Rock was on stage to announce the award for Best Documentary when he made a joke in reference to her newly shaved scalp.

Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith.Reuters

“Jada, I love you," Rock says. "G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see you,” he remarked in reference to Demi Moore's shaved scalp in the film, G.I. Jane.

Pinkett-Smith revealed in 2021 last that she shaved her head after her ordeal with alopecia caused her hair loss.

The joke caused her some discomfort as she was seen in the audience rolling her eyes at Rock's joke.

After Rock's joke, Smith stands up and walks on stage while Rock is talking. “Uh oh...”, Rock is heard saying, then Smith hits him and walks off stage, back to his seat.

Disclaimer: The video below contains expletive language that is not suitable for an impressionable audience.

“Will Smith just smacked the [expletive] out of me,” Rock says, looking visibly stunned into the camera.

Now seated, Smith continues: “Keep my wife’s name out your [expletive] mouth,” to which Rock rebuttals, “Wow... Dude! It was a G.I. Jane joke.”

Celebrities abound appeared visibly shocked including Lupita Nyong'o who sat near Smith.

Smith reiterates again to Rock, "Keep my wife's name out your [expletive] mouth."

"I'm going to," Rock says. "Okay. That was a...the greatest night of the history of television," Rock lampooned while maintaining his composure.

Smith Apologizes During Acceptance Speech For Best Actor Win

Despite Smith's actions, he won Best Actor for his portrayal of Venus and Serena Williams father in the film, "King Richard."

Upon receiving the award, Smith gave a tearful apology to the Academy and fellow nominees in his acceptance speech. Oddly enough, he did not apologize to Rock in his apology.

“I want to apologize to the Academy," Smith says. I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment and I’m not crying for winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me. It’s about being able to shine a light on all of the people.”

Read the transcript of Smith's speech below.

“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family. In this time in my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world," Smith says. Making this film, I got to protect Aunjanue Ellis, who is one of the strongest, most delicate people I’ve ever met. I got to protect Saniyya and Demi, the two actresses that played Venus and Serena,” he says. “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do, you got to be able to take abuse. You got to be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business you got to be able to have people disrespecting you. And you got to smile and you got to pretend like that’s okay. Thank you, Dee. Denzel said a few minutes ago, ‘At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the Devil comes for you. To my mother — a lot of this moment is really complicated for me — but to my mother, she didn’t want to come out. She had her knitting friends; she has a knitting crew that she’s in Philly watching with. Being able to love and care for my mother and my family, my wife — I’m taking up too much time. Thank you for this honor. Thank you for this moment. And thank you on behalf of Richard and Oracene [Price] and the entire Williams family. Thank you. I hope the Academy invites me back.”

After a false apology by Rock began circulating across social media, the Associated Press confirmed it as a fake. On March 29, Smith later issued a public apology to Rock on his Instagram that reads:

“Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally,” Smith says. “I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness. I would also like to apologize to the Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world. I would like to apologize to the Williams Family and my King Richard Family. I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us. I am a work in progress.”

Unfortunately for Smith, Rock's younger brother and fellow comedian, Tony Rock does not approve of the apology, per CNN. Music producer Diddy initally claimed that Smith and Rock made amends at the Vanity Fair Oscars party Sunday night via Page Six.

“That’s not a problem. That’s over. I can confirm that,” Diddy says. “It’s all love. They’re brothers.” He later retracted the statements March 30, saying, "I never confirmed they had reconciled," via Complex.

Celebrities Weigh In on The Debacle

After Smith slapped Rock, Smith’s publicist Meredith O. Sullivan, Oscar producer Will Packer, and actors Denzel Washington and Bradley Cooper rushed to his side to talk to him.

The assault seemingly divided the Hollywood elite sparking an ongoing conversation across all social media platforms, news outlets, and podcasts with everyone giving their hot take on the matter.

As of March 30, E! Network saw a 219% increase in cross-platform audience engagement with its Oscar coverage, driven by interest in the Will Smith gabfest, per Variety. The network doubled its linear viewership for its post-show and more than quadrupled its engagement.

Once the ceremony ended numerous celebrities expressed their concerns, specifically for Smith. Actor and comedian Marlon Wayans says he believes that the two men will "make amends" but observed "Will's going through something," according to People.

Pinkett-Smith’s Girls Trip co-star Tiffany Haddish seemingly praised Smith's behavior saying, “When I saw a Black man stand up for his wife that meant so much to me," she says to People. "As a woman, who has been unprotected, for someone to say, ‘Keep my wife’s name out your mouth, leave my wife alone,’ that’s what your husband is supposed to do, right? Protect you.”

Haddish added: “That meant the world to me. And maybe the world might not like how it went down, but for me, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen because it made me believe that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives.”

Other celebrities, specifically comedians, who sided with Rock, were incredulous. Amy Schumer took to Instagram to share that the ordeal left her "triggered and traumatized" in a since-now-deleted post. Supporters of Rock reads like a Who's Who of Hollywood including but not limited to Judd Apatow, Rob Reiner, Sophia Bush, Howard Stern, Zoe Kravitz, Kathy Griffin, and Maria Shriver, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

According to the Associated Press, co-host Wanda Sykes told Ellen DeGeneres in an interview to air April 7 that she felt physically ill after Smith slapped Rock. “I’m still a little traumatized by it,” she says in a clip courtesy of People Magazine.

“I was like, 'How gross is this? This is the wrong message," Sykes says. "You assault somebody and you get escorted out the building and that’s it. But for them to let him continue, I thought it was gross. I wanted to be able to run out (on stage) after he won and say, ‘Uh, unfortunately, Will couldn’t be here tonight.’”

LAPD: "The Individual Declined to File a Police Report"

Shortly after the altercation, Rock declined to file a police report after being contacted by the Los Angeles Police Department, and ultimately left, according to Variety to attend the VIP afterparty held at music manager Guy Oseary's home.

The LAPD released a full statement about Rock's decision, saying:

"LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program. The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

The Academy Weighs In

While many celebrities were confused and shocked that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did not have Smith removed from the ceremony, the governing body has since spoken out about the incident.

Whoopi Goldberg, a member of the Academy’s board of governors, spoke out about the turn of events on March 28 on her talk show, “The View.”

“We’re not going to take that Oscar from him,” Goldberg shared to the audience. She also added that “nobody is okay with what happened.”

An official statement released March 27 from the governing body confirmed Goldberg's statements. “The Academy does not condone violence of any form," it reads. "Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.”

As of March 29, the Academy condemned Smith's behavior and vowed to take "appropriate action" in a letter sent to its members addressing the incident, via Variety.

The letter says that the Academy officials are "upset and outraged" over the assault and expressed that it "overshadowed" the awards ceremony.

“Sunday’s telecast of the 94th Oscars was meant to be a celebration of the many individuals in our community who did incredible work this past year," reads the letter. "We are upset and outraged that those moments were overshadowed by the unacceptable and harmful behavior on stage by a nominee.”

The letter, signed by Academy president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson, also says, “Academy’s Board of Governors will now make a determination on appropriate action for Mr. Smith.” The members plan on discussing further actions Wednesday night in regards to the incident.

Read the letter in its entirety below.

"Sunday’s telecast of the 94th Oscars was meant to be a celebration of the many individuals in our community who did incredible work this past year. We are upset and outraged that those moments were overshadowed by the unacceptable and harmful behavior on stage by a nominee," it reads. "To be clear, we condemn Mr. Smith’s actions that transpired Sunday night. As outlined in our bylaws, the Academy’s Board of Governors will now make a determination on appropriate action for Mr. Smith. As governed by California law regarding members of nonprofit organizations like the Academy, and set forth in our Standards of Conduct, this must follow an official process that will take a few weeks. We will continue to update you on any developments, but we also ask that you respect your Board, Academy staff and the process as this unfolds so it can work in the considered way it was intended and mandated. Please trust that the Board of Governors will conduct this process in a manner that is both expedient and respectful of all involved while maintaining the standards of the Academy."

By March 30, the Academy continued to publicly lambaste Smith's unprovoked actions.

“Mr. Smith’s actions at the 94th Oscars were a deeply shocking, traumatic event to witness in-person and on television,” the Academy says. “Mr. Rock, we apologize to you for what you experienced on our stage and thank you for your resilience in that moment. We also apologize to our nominees, guests and viewers for what transpired during what should have been a celebratory event.”

The Academy Alleges Smith Refused to Leave Award Show

As of March 30, the Academy met and began disciplinary proceedings against Smith for violations against their established standards of conduct, according to the Associated Press.

The governing board inferred that Smith refused to leave the Dolby Theatre after they tried to remove him from the audience.

“Things unfolded in a way we could not have anticipated,” the Academy says in a released statement per Variety. “While we would like to clarify that Mr. Smith was asked to leave the ceremony and refused, we also recognize we could have handled the situation differently.” The board admits, "“We also recognize we could have handled the situation differently.”

The statement from the Academy cites the standards of conduct and Smith’s violations as “inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior, and compromising the integrity of the Academy.” It also says Smith now faces “suspension, expulsion, or other sanctions permitted.”

This story will be regularly updates as details unfold.

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