IN THIS CORNER
Will Smith's right cross (slap) to Oscar presenter comedian Chris Rock, was seen globally, Sunday, March 27. screen grab
WILL ROCKS CHRIS
Will Smith’s ‘sucker punch,’ er, slap, was seen
around the world. But is he the villain?
By MARIE Y. LEMELLE
When 15.4 million people watched the 94th edition of the Academy Awards to see who would win for the best performance, no one could imagine that Oscar-nominated Will Smith would morph into Best Action Hero and Actor/Comedian Chris Rock, Best Stunt Performer.
In the heat of Rock's announcement of the Best Documentary, Smith made a bold decision to stop Rock from degrading his wife about her bald head.
He slapped Rock into next week. Rock, completely caught off-guard by the assault (yes, it was an assault) tried to salvage the moment claiming it was "just a joke."
Jada Pinkett-Smith is a brave and transparent woman. It is no secret that she suffers from alopecia. She shared her medical condition in 2018.
The world was stunned after witnessing the drama and trauma between the two on the night of the biggest awards show in the entertainment industry. It was a train wreck.
Is "just a joke" an acceptable excuse? Are comedians immune to making remarks, in the vein of a joke, that are offensive, racist, sexist, homophobic or downright inhumane? Rock, as a father of two Black daughters, a son of a Black woman, and brother of a Black sister—how could he demean any woman for having fake hair, bad hair or no hair?
Rock produced a documentary in 2009, "Good Hair." The storyline, partly in response to his daughters' concern about not having "good hair," gave us a comedic but honest look at the relationship of African American women and hair.
How ironic is it that Rock's ex-wife is the founder of StyleWorks, a non-profit, full-service hair salon that provides free services for women leaving welfare and entering the workforce?
Rock's comments about Mrs. Pinkett-Smith hairlessness took us backward. Hair discrimination is real. Whether you wear your hair shaven as a women or braids down your waist, if Corporate America is uncomfortable with Black natural hair, it cause a problem from getting fired, not get hired or promoted, and disrespect. It took the passage of the "Crown Act," to legally stop Corporate America from discriminating against African American natural hairstyles.
If the table was turned, would Rock be okay, if people talked about the alcoholism in his family, his addiction to drugs and pornography, and his nonverbal learning disability? Probably not. After all, Rock admitted he was bullied and beaten as a kid. It is a well-known fact that victims of bullying could become a bullying perpetrator. Disguising bullying as a joke is unacceptable.
In a survey among Black women, here's what I learned: this is a collective SNAFU. There are a number of people responsible for this drama. Why didn't Rock know about her condition or maybe he didn't care? Why didn't his team inform him when he decided to write those comments in his monologue? What was the production team, producers, directors, and writers thinking at the rehearsal?
Smith issued an apology for striking Rock at Sunday's Academy Awards. In a post on Instagram on Monday, Smith called his behavior “unacceptable and inexcusable.”
What should Rock do now? A verbal apology by Rock to the public with a private apology to Mrs. Pinkett-Smith, her husband, and family would be a start. Rock should donate a sizable amount to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, the leading organization dedicated to supporting people and families affected by alopecia areata and educating the public about this condition.
Rock offended a public figure, her husband and family, as well as her friends and business associates. The joke was neither funny nor cute. It was brutal. Alopecia affects more than 6 million people in America. The condition is known as a polygenic disease and 147 million worldwide suffer from it. Imagine losing the hair on your head, face, and body? The autoimmune disease has no cure, effective treatment or standard of care.
What can Smith do? His acceptance speech included an apologetically and explanation "as a defender and protector of family." That said, who is protecting our Black women? Research shows that Black women are harassed, humiliated, degraded, forgotten, hunted, judged, disrespected, and discarded proportionately higher than any other race.
At the end of the day, violence is not the answer; however, what would you have done, and if it were your spouse, what would they expect? Most likely, this incident will continue to be debated and social media will remain on fire with opinions.
Facts: Smith faced a bully. Rock fell from grace.
Score: One for the superhero. Zero for the supervillain.
The Aftermath: Life imitates art and Everybody Hates Chris.
Oscar winner Denzel Washington said it best, "In your highest moments, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you."
Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA is the founder and chief executive of Platinum Star Public Relations. Contact her at (213) 276-7827.