About That Chris Rock-Will Smith Moment at the Oscars

Koktail's editor weighs in on that awkward incident

Okay, so by now you’ve seen in full and unedited glory that awkward Will Smith-Chris Rock altercation on the Oscars stage. I think we can mostly agree that it was probably a very real reaction from the 53-year-old King Richard actor about a joke made at the expense of his wife, and not a staged commotion to bring relevancy back to the Oscars. If you didn’t know previously, you know now that Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, has been diagnosed with alopecia, a medical condition that while not life-threatening can be emotionally and mentally devastating—I know because I’ve had alopecia myself. 

Now I love Will Smith as much as the next Hollywood fan. He’s not my favorite actor of all time, but I find him to pick good films, be a good emotional actor as well as natural comedian, a great sport at press junkets, and overall a family man who’d do anything for his wife and kids. Despite the buzz here and there about perhaps being in an open marriage or infidelity, he and Jada seem genuinely close and supportive of one another. They seem like they’re in it together for life. What’s not to love about that? 

I’ll admit that when I first watched Will walk up on stage and give it to Chris, I was all “Oh snap! Yeah, you show him not to mess with your wife!” This is contradictory to my feminism, but I do secretly hope that if I ever got insulted or humiliated in public that my husband would waste no time telling everyone off on my behalf, even though it would be unnecessary. That’s just my human irrationality and why I soaked up the now-infamous Oscars 2022 moment like everyone else. 

A few instances later, however, after the hype had subsided, I realized that I disagreed with those who were saying that Chris’ joke was made in poor taste against an autoimmune disease and that he deserved to get socked. Really? It is only my opinion and I don’t represent the alopecia community as a whole, but as someone who’s had it, I find G.I. Jane joke borderline funny and inoffensive at worst. And I’m not normally a fan of Chris Rock’s humor.

Alopecia is scary and sad when you first find out. I wouldn’t recommend putting yourself in a very vulnerable position if you’ve just been told that you’re losing your hair in clumps and that there’s no cure for it (there is only treatment, and it doesn’t work for everyone). However, if you’ve come to terms with the condition, I think you shouldn’t treat it as a disability or taboo topic. It isn’t one. 

Which brings me to another issue that’s been on my mind for a while: the persecution of comedians for simply doing what it is they do. Roasting is a part of comedy. If Will and Chris are unable to have a civil and real conversation in privacy, that’s a whole other issue. But on stage, as hired comedic entertainment, the joke on Hollywood’s elite was fair game. 

Will’s gut reaction to Chris’ punchline (pun intended) and my gut reaction to Will’s reaction are flaws of human nature. But as humans, we are also both blessed and cursed with the ability of reevaluating ourselves. As Will got up on stage minutes after the incident to receive the award for Best Actor, he should have apologized explicitly to Chris and not just to the Academy and nominees. It was a missed opportunity to strengthen his likability even further, especially after all those words about wanting to be "a vessel of love” or "an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern” in his acceptance speech. He still has the ultimate upper hand here. There remains plenty of time for a well-articulated apology, and if he doesn’t end up giving one, the career of this emotional, family-loving Academy Awards Best Actor won’t suffer one bit. And that may be exactly why someone like Will Smith, or at least what we think of Will Smith, should show remorse.