Will Smith’s angry on-stage slap leaves its mark on Hollywood’s historic 94th Oscars

Will Smith hits Chris Rock on stage. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Will Smith hits Chris Rock on stage. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Will Smith hits Chris Rock on stage. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Olivia Colman chats to The Lost Daughter co-star Jessie Buckley at the Oscars. Photo: Chris Pizzello/PA

Kirsty Blake Knox

IT WAS the most unpredictable and shocking Oscars in the ceremony’s 94-year history.

On Sunday night, those in Los Angeles’s Dolby Theatre were astounded when Will Smith rushed up to the stage and slapped comedian Chris Rock hard in the face.

Rock had made a crass joke about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett-Smith’s shaved head. “Jada, can’t wait for GI Jane 2,” he said referring to Ridley Scott’s 1997 film in which Demi Moore plays a trainee Naval Seal with a crewcut.

Pinkett Smith has alopecia and has candidly spoken about her hair loss and the psychological impact it has had on her. While Will Smith appeared initially to laugh at the joke, he then made his way on stage and hit Rock square in the face.

He then returned to his seat and shouted at Rock: “Keep my wife’s name out of your f****** mouth.”

The “did-that-just-happen?” altercation soured the evening’s proceedings and became the most talked about moment of the night.

But those living with alopecia, such as Irish model and actor Amber Jane Rowan, hope once the online chatter subsides it will deter others from making cruel remarks about women living with hair loss.

While Amber Jane, who began losing her hair when she was 15-years-old, thinks Smith should not have hit Rock, she hopes the incident will raise awareness of the autoimmune condition.

“I am a huge fan of Jada. She is a badass woman who is constantly shedding light on alopecia and hair loss, and owning it and educating people,” Rowan said.

“And it’s wonderful to see Will Smith stand up for his wife and not take any sh*t from anyone especially around a subject that is very sensitive to Jada…however I do think the punching was a step too far…I do think it could have been handled in a better fashion that didn’t result in violence.

“Perhaps it could have just been better for [Will Smith] to take the microphone and say a few words to Chris Rock…and call him out.”

She added: “Punching isn’t a thing and you shouldn’t be doing that. But there is a little part of me that sings inside for someone who takes no sh*t from someone slagging someone with no hair.”

Meanwhile, Kathrina Bentley, CEO of Men’s Aid Ireland, says Smith’s actions on stage were inexcusable.

“There is categorically no excuse for violence against any person,” she said. “It is assault. There are other things he could have done to support his wife…spoken to Chris Rock backstage. But this is unacceptable – especially when so many people are watching, and he has such influence.”

The “slap that was heard around the world” sparked debate with some people criticising Smith and others rushing to his support.

Bradley Cooper was seen embracing him moments after, while Last Samurai producer Marshall Herskovitz urged the Academy to take disciplinary action. “He disgraced our entire community tonight,” he said.

Minutes after the slap, Smith was awarded the Best Actor Oscar for his role in King Richard. In his acceptance speech he apologised to the Academy and seemed to refer to his outburst.

“Art imitates life, I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things.”

The event overshadowed proceedings, and that was a shame as there were some historic and celebratory moments, including when Coda picked up the Best Picture.

Coda, a remake of French film La Famille Bélier, was the outlier and the first film distributed by a streaming service to win Best Picture.

While there was a strong Irish contingent on the red carpet, the only win was for Kenneth Branagh and the Best Original Screenplay for Belfast.

Branagh paid tribute to the “amazing city of Belfast on the fabulous island of Ireland” after winning his first Academy Award. He has been in the running for an Oscar eight times.

He said his story was “the search for hope and joy in the face of violence and loss”.

Jessie Buckley and Ciarán Hinds had been nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Actor Oscars for their respective roles in The Lost Daughter and Belfast. Sadly, neither of them picked up an award. West Side Story star Ariana DeBose won for her performance as Anita in the classic musical, 60 years after her predecessor in the role, Rita Moreno, earned the statue in the same category.

Hinds lost out to Troy Kotsur (Coda). Kotsur is the second deaf actor to bring home an Oscar, joining his co-star Marlee Matlin who won for Children of a Lesser God in 1987.

Jane Campion was awarded Best Director, for The Power of the Dog. Her win comes just a year after Chloe Zhao’s victory with the film Nomadland. It represents the first back-to-back wins by women for Best Director.

This year, producer Will Pecker vowed to streamline the ceremony and make up for last year’s atrocious ratings by cutting some awards out, and bringing in plenty of star power - Beyonce performed the opening number, while Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes hosted.

While some of the changes worked, others missed the mark. Having a professional skateboarder, surfer, and snowboarder introduce a James Bond montage was an odd choice.

One of the most poignant moments of the evening was when Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli presented the Best Picture award. Gaga could be heard reassuring Minnelli saying “I gotcha”, to which the 76-year-old replied: “I know”.

But sadly, it looks like the 94th Oscars will always be remembered as the one where Will Smith socked Chris Rock in the face.

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