End of the year roundtable: How do we feel about Will Smith?

Chris Rock and Will Smith

Chris Rock and Will Smith
picture: Robin Beck/AFP (Getty Images)

In our year-end roundtable discussion series, av club It takes a look at the stories that had the biggest impact on pop culture in 2022.

In March 2022, on stage at the Academy Awards, Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head. Then Will Smith slapped him. In terms of facts about what happened, that’s really all there is. But the resulting rhetoric occupied the bulk of this year, and the numbers will stretch into 2023 as the next Oscar season ramps up. How we feel about the moment, and whether or not we think Smith’s actions were justified, are just some of the elements that keep this conversation alive. here, av club The staff talks about the infamous slap and the crowd’s reaction.

Mary Kate Carr: Like any pop culture geek I love when the Oscars can produce a lasting and memorable moment, but this one turned out to be a monkey’s paw wish. I’m a fan of Will Smith, so I hate that it came at the cost of obscuring not only the work he did last year but the work he did this year as well.

Jack Smart: What I’ve focused on since March 27, 2022 — and I know I’m not the only one — is the dramatic irony of it all. This is a man who works decades to build a reputation, a brand, truly a legacy as one of Hollywood’s brightest stars and most accomplished black pioneers, only to see it all crumble on one unthinkable impulse. And for that to happen, minutes before his hard-won climax in that long career, with him winning the Best Actor Oscar? Ibsen himself could not have written such a tragedy.

Matt Shimkowitz: For now, I thought it was a bit much. My mind couldn’t process Will Smith, the nice guy in Hollywood, attacking Chris Rock on stage over this hack material. This must be the most anyone thought of Ji Jin Since, what, 1998? But the slap has to be the most surreal thing to happen at the Oscars in at least one year moon light Fiasco – Although I think the most famous man in the room slapping the second most famous man in the room and then winning an Oscar 10 minutes later is beyond the realm of what anyone thinks can happen.

Will Smith receives his Academy Award at the 2022 Academy Awards

will Smith
picture: Robin Beck/AFP (Getty Images)

MKC: More than the slap itself, the reaction to it has been great to see unfold throughout the year. Anecdotally, we chatted on The Office about how there seems to be a generational divide in reaction — older viewers seem more scandalous and anti-Smith, while younger viewers seem to be quick to forgive and take his side. I definitely fall into the latter category, and I’m amazed when I read things like THR’s report on Oscar voters how many people feel he still needs to be punished yet, like I said, we’re almost a year away from the actual event.

Cindy White: Speaking as an older viewer (who doesn’t necessarily share this common view) I know what you mean. I definitely saw more young people defending him after that. I’m not against Smith, but the word I would use is frustrating. What a shame to give away what could have been another triumphant moment when he won an Academy Award later in the broadcast. The person I really felt bad for was Questlove, who also took a huge win right after it happened, but who will remember that now?

Drew Gillis: I was really surprised to see the reaction when I walked out of the party and on Twitter. At the Oscars, we definitely had the initial reaction of “Was that a script? What did you just watch?” And when Smith delivered his speech, beginning with “Richard Williams was a fierce protector of his family,” the entire room cheered. Going online and seeing Judd Apatow panicked because Smith could have killed Rock was out of touch with the group of people I was with when it happened. I don’t want to be particularly rude, but I do think there’s truth to the phrase “speak shit, hit” — Chris Rock has been taking jada cheap pics for a while, and while his job as a comedian is to take pics, I don’t. I think comedians are above reproach. Of course, it was incredibly humiliating for both men, and you could argue that Smith’s punishment wasn’t appropriate for Rock’s offense, but I have to fight the notion that comedians are nondescript.

youth: I’m also more intrigued by the response to the slap than the details of the incident itself. Perhaps big public cultural moments like this are Rorschach tests: Do you object to the negative consequences you will face because they betray racial inequality? Do you have a zero tolerance policy for physical violence, unlike other forms of violence? Do you find it refreshing to see the polite looks of public figures fade away to reveal a genuine human connection — or, in other words, do you absolutely love drama?

the lady: From my point of view, as a humble enjoyer of their work, I was depressed. Rock and Smith looked very offended by the incident. Smith had this deep sense of “What the Hell Did You Just Do” and the rock of “What the Hell Happened”. There were some images of Rock at the after-party, and I kept thinking how embarrassing it must have felt, having to relive the moment over and over again, to know that everyone was thinking about it, that everyone had an opinion on it. Even though they were two of these larger-than-life characters, it just felt really human to me. These are two people, one who was hurt by the other’s actions and the other who was hurt by his own. Everyone knows how that feels. When was the last time a celebrity did anything that related to fate?

Directorate General: He worked for decades precisely to brand himself as a good guy in Hollywood and in one moment – I think he was doing something like the right thing in standing up for his family – it all came crashing down.

Will Smith at the 2022 Academy Awards

will Smith
picture: Nelson Barnard (Getty Images)

CW: Do you feel that the 10-year ban on Will Smith from attending the Academy Awards was an appropriate response from the Academy, or is it extreme given that they haven’t punished others who have done much worse (though not during the ceremony)?

Directorate General: One element that I think was kind of left out of this conversation is that it was literally where both men worked. At least for me, I watch an awards show and think of it as a group of famous friends hanging out, but as an actor, the Oscars are a business event. Morals, politics, and everything else aside, if you’re going to spank your co-workers, there are repercussions. This is the only lens through which I can properly see the punishment Smith received.

the lady: Verse. Smith got a 10-year ban, but Oscar will carry an asterisk forever. I’m not going to pretend to know much about Smith, but in my opinion, he’s Tom Cruise: a man so focused on his goals that any hiccups could be disastrous. He spoiled the moment he’d desired for so long – at least two decades. It must really hurt.

youth: I get that the Academy felt they had to do something decisively in response to this thing dominating the news cycle. But to me it seems like it backfired. By executing bans of such inordinate length (with our collective attention span shrinking, the decade is a lifetime), they have inadvertently exposed their various reactions, or lack thereof, to others, as they have to you, Cindy.

Sacheen Littlefeather, who took the stage to reject Marlon Brando’s 1973 Oscar in an effort to draw attention to the industry’s unfair treatment of Native Americans, said the only reason John Wayne failed to physically attack her was because six hefty men were tying him up. Where was his block, the Academy? Roman Polanski, who pleaded guilty to statutory rape in 1978, was expelled from the Academy — but not until 2018, and in between, won an Academy Award. Or an even more absurd example: How did Rob Lowe go on to act after Disney’s version of the Proud Mary at a 1989 party that was not only embarrassingly offensive, but also illegal? (Find it, sheep!)

CW: I love that you brought up the Rob Lowe disaster. What a low point for broadcasting. It’s also a good reminder that past Oscars ceremonies have hardly been epistles of propriety, as the Academy would like us to believe. One line ran across the stage on national television (His story and what happened to him after that is another great rabbit hole to dive into)! The point is, when faced with a choice to make a drastic or calculated move against Will Smith, they chose the drastic move. Read into this what you will.

youth: It bothers me that this incident will go down in history as the headliner of the 2022 Oscars, and more importantly forever, and I remember how utterly eccentric it was about that fact as I tweeted frantically from av clubTwitter account of. I wish Chris Rock hadn’t told that (very stupid) joke, and Will hadn’t made such a tragic irony of himself. The fact that I refer to him as Will, and not as I am supposed in this official essay as Smith, is a testament to how central the character is to the collective consciousness. It’s like an uncle, a familiar character you like to see or check up on. If the question is do I feel bad for a guy, yes I do.

[This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.]

#year #roundtable #feel #Smith

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