sWill Smith had such a shocking reaction to anchor Chris Rock’s joke about his wife’s hair falling out it’s pretty much the only thing anyone can remember about the 94th Academy Awards right now. That and Smith’s surreal acceptance speech, too, for Best Actor 40 Minutes Later, in which he casts himself as the protector and tearfully pleads that “love will make you do crazy things.” Smith may have surveyed the Men in Black’s memory in the rest of the ceremony.
It was the slap that unleashed thousands of exaggerated tweets, memes, and op-eds on the topic of black masculinity. Celebrity nods of support and condemnation poured in immediately, to both Team Rock and Team Smith. The comedians pulled off every possible joke on the subject (“What’s Chris Rock Got On His Face? Remakes”). Then the world moved on, but The Slap continued to resonate around Hollywood.
Smith has spent most of the past year either apologizing or “working on himself.” A written apology came the day after the Oscars, via Instagram: “I am deeply sorry that my behavior has tainted what has been an amazing journey for all of us. I am a work in progress.” Smith made a similar video apology to Rock a few months later. In June, Smith’s wife Jada, the target of the joke, made a plea to Smith and Rock to reconcile them.
Rock did not respond to these various pleas. “He’s not interested in Smith at the moment, he’s on tour and preparing for a comedy special,” a source told ET in June. Since April, Rock has toured the world with his comedy show Ego Death, during which he has occasionally mentioned The Slap. In July, in Atlanta, Rock joked about “being attacked by Sug Smith” — a reference to famous rap mogul Sug Knight. In Arizona, he reminded audiences that Smith once played Muhammad Ali. “He is older than me. Nevada will not allow a fight between me and Will Smith.” In Liverpool, on stage with Dave Chappelle, he had a direct message to Smith: “Fuck your hostage video” – a reference to Smith’s YouTube post in July in which he regretted his attack.
Smith has also been touring the world, filming the new National Geographic series Pole to Pole, and finishing his latest movie, Emancipation, in which he plays a runaway slave. He’s currently on the promotional tours for the movie, which means revisiting his not-so-happy moment over and over again. “It was as horrible a night as you can imagine,” Trevor Noah said recently, claiming he had no memory of the actual moment. “There are so many nuances and complexities to it. But at the end of the day, I just — I lost it.” He referenced his own childhood in the justification: “It was the little boy who watched his father beat his mother—it all melted away in that moment.”
One party she has Decisively acted is the academy itself. After issuing her own apology for her handling of the situation, she announced in April that she had banned Smith from attending the Academy Awards and all other Academy events for 10 years. They’re not likely to hold a concert without taking the stage up again, too. Meanwhile, Emancipation has been getting good reviews, so if it receives any nominations this season, things could get awkward. The Academy has also invited Rock to host the 2023 Academy Awards, as revealed earlier this year. He refused, saying it was like returning to a crime scene.
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