Will Smith’s slap makes the Oscars talked-about TV again

Comedian Chris Rock got an unexpected punchline from his joke at the Oscars

Pat Stacey

Scandalous. Absolutely scandalous. That’s the only way to describe the thoroughly appalling turn of events at the Oscars ceremony in the wee small hours of Monday morning.

I mean, seriously: how could anyone in their right mind have picked the mediocre CODA as Best Film ahead of the brilliant The Power of the Dog? It’s just shocking.

Ha, gotcha! You thought the subject was going to be Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, didn’t you? Actually, that is the subject — although I stand by what I said about CODA. And since we’re at it, Benedict Cumberbatch was robbed of the Best Actor Oscar too.

But back to the matter in hand. Namely, Will Smith’s hand, which connected forcibly with Chris Rock’s face after the comedian cracked a joke that annoyed the actor and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith.

“Jada, I love you. GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see you,” said Rock, in a reference to Pinkett Smith’s shaved head — which, as she revealed last year, was a result of her being diagnosed with alopecia.

Frankly, Pinkett Smith initially seemed more bothered by it than her husband, who was seen laughing along. But whatever passed between the couple in the few seconds after the camera cut back to Rock, Smith suddenly swaggered up to the stage, hit the bemused comedian, swaggered back to his seat and twice shouted: “Keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth.”

This was, by some considerable distance, the most uncomfortable and embarrassing moment in the history of Oscar television broadcasts, which have had more than their share of uncomfortable and embarrassing moments.

In 2017, the producers of La La Land were halfway through their Best Film acceptance speeches before it was discovered that there had been an envelope mix-up and the real winner was Moonlight.

The amused expression on the face of La La Land star Ryan Gosling, a rare Hollywood A-lister who doesn’t take himself too seriously, sparked a thousand memes.

In 1973, Marlon Brando stayed away and sent a Native American activist called Sacheen Littlefeather to turn down his Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather on his behalf, in protest at how Native Americans were treated in Hollywood movies.

A furious John Wayne, who was waiting in the wings, reportedly had to be restrained by six security guards to stop him forcing Littlefeather off stage.

In 1974, the Oscars stage was invaded by a streaker called Robert Opel. Unflappable host David Niven quipped: “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”

Compared to these blips, the behaviour of Smith — who later won Best Actor and blubbed his way through a semi-coherent acceptance speech that was equal parts apology (but not to Rock) and equal parts self-pitying whinge — was off the bizarre scale.

To be fair to Pinkett Smith, alopecia is no laughing matter. It’s deeply distressing for the person suffering from it. But to be equally fair to Rock, the joke — meek and tepid by his standards — seemed like nothing more than a little harmless joshing.

It’s harder to feel anything positive about Smith, a once charming and immensely likeable star who in the past decade seems to have come down with a particularly severe dose of humourless self-importance.

Rock may have chosen not to press charges, but what Smith did is assault, plain and simple.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining for someone. If nothing else, the incident got people talking about the Oscars again.

It won’t have done anything for the live broadcast, the audience for which has been on a downward slide for years now, but it’s been all over social media and the television news, and will surely have resulted in a ratings spike for the highlights show that’s carried by broadcasters around the world.

It also proves that there’s still a place on television for awards ceremonies.

As long, drawn-out and boring as they can sometimes be, they’re still the only place you’ll get a glimpse of Hollywood stars for what a lot of them really are: vain, precious, preening, egotistical, self-obsessed and thin-skinned.

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