When I saw what Will Smith did and how it completely shifted the Oscars, I thought of Forrest Gump’s line, “sorry I had to fight in the middle of your Black Panther Party.” In the scene, Forrest Gump found himself in the most unlikely of places defending his toxic love interest, Jenny. I couldn’t help but think that something in Will Smith’s life came to a head on Sunday night. One the cusp of winning his first Academy Award, he did the most unthinkable thing and given the incessant news cycle and pundits available for commentary, this news cycle may last for weeks.
What if Will is finally tired of hiding his true feelings? What if Will Smith wanted to be the bad guy for once in his life? Considering the scene, precedence and potential repercussions, he couldn’t have chosen a bigger stage to turn heel. He’s been the bad guy before, just not in the court of public opinion. Forcing Janet Hubert out on the world famous sitcom? Nah, we still gave him a pass and since they’ve made up, it’s like it never happened. Sunday night was a first for Will Smith and we hope it will be his last. In professional wrestling, when one of the good guys does a bad thing or sides with the bad guys, it’s called turning from “face to heel.” Hulk Hogan did it and in the attitude era of the WWE, it was hard to tell from week to week, which side either of the stars were on.
It’s hard to not love Will Smith, but he forgot a major lesson on Sunday night: Time. Place. (Tact)ic. It was the wrong time to confront Chris Rock, the stage was the wrong place (backstage would have been preferable) and his tactic of slapping him was downright criminal. In the streets, there’s a rule that you handle disrespect when and where it happens. They weren’t in the streets though, they were in the vaunted Dolby Theatre for the biggest night in Hollywood. The assault on Chris Rock was met with incredulity and disproval from many, though it was celebrated by many more as they opined about in online. You know you’ve really messed up when you get some semblance of “The People’s Eyebrow” from Dwayne Johnson.
Thankfully, we’re nearing the end of the news cycle for the Sunday night’s Smackdown. You’re tired of hearing about it and journalists are probably tired of talking about it. Before the cycle ends, I do want to share a final thought in regard to why what happened Sunday can’t happen again. It’s not that Will Smith can’t take a joke, it’s that he couldn’t take control of himself in that moment. Will smith is king of clean and is quite hilarious so it’s safe to say that he acted out of character Sunday night. He delivered many jokes on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” with Carlton and the Banks family as the punchline so we know he can both make and take a joke.
Still, making jokes of illness and physical deformity aren’t funny even though they regularly make it into comic routines. Rap, film and mostly everything Will Smith does is easily digestible by the public but what he did to defend his wife’s honor has many heads scratching and stomachs churning. Don’t get me wrong, he got much high praise for it, but it can’t happen again.
On the biggest night in Hollywood and perhaps the biggest night of his film career (he won his first Academy Award), he sauntered on stage and slapped Chris Rock following an off-color joke about Jada Pinkett’s hair calling her “G.I. Jane”. The joke was in bad taste but what ensued was worse. Will smith slapped Rock and continued with a verbal assault once he returned to his seat. Lupita Nyongo’s facial expressions were the consummate reaction to the out of character moment for Smith. Incredulity abounded while Rock kept rolling and returned to the script as the room and viewers collectively begged the question, “what in the world just happened?” Much unlike professional wrestling, public assaults aren’t taken lightly. Will IS a good dude and one who normally takes it on the chin when jokes are made about him, just keep his wife’s name…by now, you know the rest of that statement!
“It’s the choices that make us what we are… and we can always choose to do what’s right.”
-Peter Parker, Spider Man 3
Though Chris Rock could have returned blows and showed he can back up the trash talk, he opted to continue with the night’s production in turn, outclassing America’s favorite nephew. Notwithstanding, the Will Packer produced show was flawless except for Will Smith’s emotional outburst. This leads me to my final point, tactic. Will was up for a major award which rock joked about before the hair joke aimed at Jada.
No honorable man would evade the responsibility of the defense of his wife’s honor. The juxtaposition on Sunday night was that of a man in a moment inside a bigger moment. In mere seconds he had to choose which moment was bigger and because he didn’t, his big win will forever be sullied by a momentary lapse in judgement. This moment even overshadowed another brother from Philly Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and his big moment as “Summer of Soul” won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, presented by Chris Rock.
Yes, Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry were there to show grace amid a teachable moment. Yes Chris rock declined to press charges, but why jeopardize your shining moment with this darkness, Mr. Smith? IN hindsight, Sunday night will be a major teachable moment for millions of people in the days to come because a manifestation of the negative perception of our people and culture usurped the memorability of the night. To quote Will from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, “you brought this on yourself…”
Sunday night’s Oscars was a win for the culture and an opportunity to prove that black excellence belongs on the same stage, deserves the same consideration and belongs in the same conversation with white productions and actors. Still, there’s always that one person you’ve got to watch out for ruining your moment and Sunday night for Will Packer, that person was Will Smith. Lessons have been learned and we’re moving forward with wisdom in tow, thanks for reading!