Whether or not you’ve seen the 94th edition of the Oscars, I’m sure you know what happened between Will Smith and Chris Rock. During the awards ceremony at the Dolby Theater of Los Angeles, Will Smith got up from the audience and slapped Chris Rock after a tacky joke from the comedian about the alopecia of his wife, Jada Pinkett. The evening went on and, shortly after, Smith returned to the stage to collect the Oscar for Best Actor.
Visibly excited, he compared himself to Richard Williams, the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams whose role won him the award. "Love will make you do crazy things" he said in his acceptance speech with tears in his eyes. He then apologized to the audience and the Academy, but not to Chris Rock. The apology to the comedian came the next day with a post on Instagram.
On one hand we have Chris Rock's joke about Jada Pinkett’s alopecia, a disease that has such a strong impact on women. In fact, in our society, women are still required to wear long hair and be effortlessly beautiful. A shaved woman is therefore seen as “outside the box”. And that makes her a target of unnecessary jokes from men. On the other hand we have Jada Pinkett’s husband, Will Smith, who slaps the comedian and shouts “Keep my wife out of your fuckin* mouth”. In all this phallocentric commotion, guess who has no say on the matter? That's right: Jada Pinkett. She was erased first by a form of body shaming, then by her husband's violent gesture towards Chris Rock.
In Will Smith’s blatant reaction there is all the toxicity of a masculinity built to dominate and feel important. Smith, as often happens to so many men, celebrity or not that is, felt justified in his role as a man, a patriarch, to restore the order and protect the virtues and honor of a woman (especially of those he considers “his”). Even the actor's tears fit perfectly into the standard way in which a man tries to justify himself, asks for forgiveness and even goes so far as to ask for mercy.
Then there are the reactions. The Academy decided to be complicit. The audience in the hall applauded, convinced that they just witnessed an impressive skit in which the attack was only a functional pawn to the narrative. And finally the discussion in the media and on social networks that even empathized with the aggressor. In all that nauseating noise, Jada Pinkett has disappeared throughout the story and is mentioned briefly only as "wife of”.
Will Smith and Chris Rock both are part of the epic tale, even Oscar-worthy one may say, of toxic masculinity. The story is old, heard over and over again. But here I want to focus on another story, that of women who (should) defend themselves. Or at least decide for themselves what to do and how to react. It hasn’t been Jada Pinkett’s story. Probably not by her own choice. She didn’t send her husband on the stage, in front of the world, to slap another man. Maybe she appreciated her husband's sense of protection. We do not know that, she wasn’t given the chance to reply with her own voice to Chris Rock’s joke. But even if this were the case, it doesn’t mean that such an act of violence can be justified in the name of love. It is in no way a chivalrous gesture, but an obsessive, impetuous, morbid and aggressive one.
Written by Paige Trimbly