Will Smith appeared to slap presenter Chris Rock for joking about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, at the Oscars.
During the third hour of the telecast, Rock took the stage to present the award for best documentary, and cracked a joke about Pinkett-Smith as being in GI Jane 2 – seemingly a reference to her shaved head. (Pinkett-Smith has been open in the past about suffering from alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss.)
Smith then said “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth” twice as the telecast glitched for American viewers. Smith then rushed the stage, where he struck Rock, footage of which was captured on uncensored international telecasts. It’s unclear if the move was a bit or a genuine surprise.
“Wow, Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me,” Rock said.
This is not the first time Rock has brought up Pinkett-Smith at the Oscars. In 2016, the last time Rock hosted the ceremony, he said: “Jada Pinkett Smith boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties – I wasn’t invited!”
Adding fuel to the fire, Scott Feinberg, a Hollywood Reporter critic in attendance at the ceremony, tweeted that “during the commercial break, Will Smith is pulled aside and comforted by Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry, who motion for him to brush it off. Will appears to wipe tears from his eyes as he sits back down with Jada, with Denzel comforting Jada and Will’s rep by his side.”
The moment became immediate fodder for memes as a confused virtual audience tried to parse what, exactly, went down.
“i know what needs to be taken to the red table …” tweeted writer Hunter Harris, referring to Pinkett-Smith’s Facebook Live talk show.
“Suddenly Chris rock shows up in the in memoriam,” tweeted writer Broti Gupta.
Some pointed to the shocked reaction of Lupita Nyong’o, seated behind the Smiths.
Later in the evening, Smith won best actor for his role as Richard Williams, father to Venus and Serena, in King Richard. The 53-year-old actor praised the real inspiration for his character as “a fierce defender of his family” to whoops from the audience. “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people,” he said.
“I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK,” he added, seeming to confirm that the incident with Rock was not scripted but derived from genuine hurt. Smith said just before his win, Denzel Washington told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”
“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith said through tears. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologise to the Academy and all my fellow nominees.
“I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he continued.
He concluded his speech with thanks and hopes that the Academy “will invite me back”.