It was crude, crass and disrespectful. But it was up to Jada to respond to it. Will Smith’s patriarchal response – physical assault – is not justified under any circumstances
Payal Seth | April 3, 2022
I remember in 2013, the highlight of the Oscar ceremony was the accidental fall of Jennifer Lawrence, as she was climbing the steps to receive an award. What was remarkable was the way she graciously made fun of herself while collecting the award. Her conduct was humbling and is still remembered fondly. Coming to 2022, this incident seems to be a blip compared to the Will Smith-Chris Rock controversy. An Oscar nominee (and eventual winner), Will Smith got so agitated at Chris Rock’s joke on his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, that he walked up to the stage and slapped him in the face. The whole incident has turned viral, with very humorous memes flooding the internet. The views on this incident are also polarizing as fans are torn in their support of Will and Chris. What is surprising to me is, how did this whole incident become about them? Where was Jada’s agency in dealing with a malicious joke that was thrown at her? Let us dissect and understand this.
First, the joke. It was crude, disrespectful and crass. Chris Rock made fun of Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair loss condition called alopeciaareata, an autoimmune disorder. Jada has publicly spoken about this disorder in 2018 and had admitted that it was a terrifying experience to deal with. Chris Rock’s joke on her trauma is not cool and in the least bit funny. Comedy does not ascribe to making fun of someone’s illness, something that is not in their control. The joke was intentionally cruel to Jada’s dignity, and there is nothing redeeming Chris Rock from his words.
Having established that Jada did not deserve this kind of punchline to be thrown at her, can one justify Will Smith’s slap? No, it does not, because slapping a person constitutes physical assault. And nothing justifies physical assault. Ever. If Will Smith didn’t like that Chris Rock disrespecting his wife, he should have discussed it with the comic. If that didn’t work, then he could have either ignored it or criticized it publicly. The vent-out mechanism should have been dignified as well: words, not hands. In doing what he did, Will Smith marred one of the most special professional achievements of his life.
Worse, like most men, who deem it their duty to protect the woman they care about, he robbed Jada of her agency to deal with the situation herself. Did anyone ask Jada if she needed to be protected in the first place? Jada was clearly offended by the joke as well. Shouldn’t she have the right to deal with it herself? She is an accomplished actor, a strong woman, who should be considered capable enough to fight her own battles. Jada should have been given the choice to handle the joke and the offence by herself. Instead, Will Smith’s patriarchal beliefs, made the entire night about himself (and Chris Rock) and how he stood up to protect the honour of the woman he loved.
Minutes later, Will Smith won his first Oscar for Best Actor and apologized for his actions in the speech. While the apology was not directed at Chris, he gave the rationale behind his actions: protecting one’s family or love makes you do crazy things. Didn’t Jada deserve an apology as well? She does not need a knight in shining armour. It seems like there were hardly any winners in this episode: Chris Rock stood up to his reputation of making cruel jokes, Will Smith resorted to violence and did not give his wife a chance to adequately react. All this while, Jada’s pain and struggle took a backseat as the spotlight shifted to the two men who instead chose to react on her behalf.
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