Why Will Smith Slapping Chris Rock Was a Grave Error

Whether you watched the unexpected incident firsthand while enjoying the 2022 Oscars, have caught multiple replays, or have spoken about it with friends, you have no doubt heard about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock over an offhand joke.

Some believe Will Smith rightfully stood up for his wife. Others  criticize him for a violent overreaction. But there may be more at stake than meets the eye.

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Why Did Will Smith Slap Chris Rock?

It’s the slap heard ‘round the world. It seemingly came out of nowhere. Yet, Chris Rock may have made an error in judgment when he formulated his joke about Will’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

Jada recently shaved her head in December, and her haircut choice bears an uncanny resemblance to the buzzcut Demi Moore made famous in G.I. Jane back in 1997. Chris joked that he couldn’t wait to see Jada G.I. Jane 2. 

As the camera panned back to Will and Jada to catch their reactions, you may have noticed Will laughing initially, while Jada looked annoyed and quickly rolled her eyes. Clearly, Jada was not amused by the joke. She has been struggling with a hair loss condition, alopecia, since 2018.

As Chris turned back to resume the show, Will arose from the audience and stalked across the stage. Chris, visibly uncomfortable, did not know what to expect. Suddenly, Will slapped Chris across the face while the audience watched in shock.

As Chris regained his composure, despite his disbelief at what had just occurred, Will told Chris to keep his wife’s name out of his mouth. 

Was Will Smith Standing Up for His Wife? 

Shortly after the incident, Will was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actor, for the film King Richard. He began by stating that Richard Williams was a “fierce defender of his family.”

During the speech, he became incredibly emotional while claiming he is being called to love and to protect the people around him. Additionally, he apologized to the Academy and the nominees in the room. 

But he did not apologize to Chris for slapping him. 

The apology eventually came the next day, when Will stated that he was out of line by slapping him. He argued he did so because a joke about his wife’s medical condition was too much for him to bear, yet violence was not the answer. 

Many people flocked to social media to reflect on the moment. The main question: was Will right to stand up for his wife? Some condemned his violence and indicated his actions were embarrassing, but that Chris was wrong for joking about a serious matter. 

Some people speculated that Will’s actions were not the result of the joke, but an accumulation of pain from transgressions in his marriage. As footage clearly showed, Will initially laughed at Chris’s joke, and only decided to act after he saw Jada’s response.

This may indicate that Will felt compelled to act for Jada. 

Why Was Slapping Chris Rock A Mistake? 

As Will acknowledged his mistake, he resigned from the Academy and determined he would accept any further consequences the Academy Board decided upon.

In general, this means he gives up some perks associated with the Academy. Most likely, though, he will not lose the Academy Award that he received. 

Apart from personal consequences, however, there are greater implications. Mainly, the incitement of violence and the justification shortly thereafter echo in the minds of abuse and assault survivors everywhere. In fact, Chris himself had endured bullying and assault as a child.

When Will chose to justify his behavior as an act of love and protection, he made a grave error.