The slap heard around the world: Will Smith and Chris Rock’s altercation at the Academy Awards


Smrithi Sambamurthy

This is the second installment of “Working Title,” a podcast where staff member Rachel Ning shares her thoughts on select films and the film industry. In this episode, Rachel speaks about and reacts to the altercation between Will Smith and Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards yesterday. 

by Rachel Ning, TALON Organizations Editor

This is the second installment of “Working Title,” a podcast where staff member Rachel Ning shares her thoughts on select films and the film industry. In this episode, Rachel speaks about and reacts to the altercation between Will Smith and Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards yesterday. 


Rachel: Hello, and welcome to “Working Title,” a podcast where I take you through some of my favorite filmography finds and important pieces of visual media that I think deserve a moment to shine.

I’m Rachel, and today’s episode is going to be a little bit different. It will be covering the Oscars, but more on the news that shocked the world and spread around like wildfire.

Okay, so despite everything that happened at the Oscars on March 27 this year, the one thing that I think everyone by now has heard about and is talking about is Will Smith punching Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. A lot of people think this was staged. I am personally not one of them — this definitely seemed not like any kind of publicity stunt just because of the way Chris Rock kept on going after the altercation or how they cut the audio out.

Basically what happened is Chris Rock was a presenter who announced the Best Documentary Feature award. However, before he could start his shpeel on the nominees and the winner of the documentary category, he made some jokes, being the comedian that he is. He called out Will Smith just to thank him — nothing that was supposed to be harmful, they’ve been friends for a long time — but then he says “Jada I love you, ‘G.I. Jane Two,’ I can’t wait to see it”, which was a jab at her alopecia, which Jada Pinkett Smith was diagnosed with back in 2018.  Alopecia is hair loss, which can be a result from medical conditions or aging, and can affect your scalp or anywhere else on your body. “G.I. Jane” was a movie that came out in 1997, where the main female protagonist is bald.

At first, it seemed like Will Smith was laughing, but then he obviously became really upset and went on stage and slapped Chris Rock. The Oscars then cut out the audio for the majority of viewers. I say majority because I did see some tweets about how Australian viewers could still hear the entire thing, and Will Smith said, “Keep my wife’s name out your mouth.” Chris Rock was able to keep his composure, he didn’t fight back or anything, and continued on to present Best Documentary Feature, and even made a joke saying “that was the greatest night in the history of television.”

I think personally the joke was super unnecessary because Chris Rock wasn’t there to host or make jokes in the first place, just to present documentary feature. However, I think this issue could have been resolved off stage, not necessarily right then and there on live television. Again, the joke did come off as rude, but you can tell Will Smith definitely was in a state of mind that was blinded by anger. I think it’s also an interesting commentary on the thin line between comedic and offensive, which is a whole other thing that’s too complicated to get into, but I have a lot of opinions on it.

The presenter after Chris Rock, Diddy, who was there to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the movie “The Godfather,” also said, “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this like family. Right now we’re moving on with love.” As I said, Chris and Will do have a history with one another, they’ve known each other for a really long time, and they’ve both been in the industry for a really long time as well.

However, really soon after all this went down, Will Smith was awarded Best Actor in a Leading Role for “King Richard,” and in his acceptance speech, he mentioned how Denzel Washington had just told him a few minutes beforehand that “at your highest moment, be careful because that’s when the devil comes for you.” Denzel said this after the altercation with Chris Rock during a commercial break or something, and I think these are super wise words not only in Will Smith’s situation but also in life, and the parallel is interesting because he would get his first-ever Oscar just moments after. People can probably draw the comparison themselves, but I think lots of people would consider getting an Oscar a high point in their life, and this wave of anger that took over Will Smith to punch Chris Rock was definitely something that might become a bigger moment in history than his Oscar win.

I think an important thing to point out too is that I do feel a lot for Questlove and “Summer of Soul” team too though. They are the ones that snagged the Best Documentary Feature award, and I feel as though the Chris and Will situation definitely overshadowed the important win of “Summer of Soul.” The documentary is a very important piece of media, as it takes memories from the 1969 Harlem festival that were in underground archive areas and revives them during the 21st century. Questlove, the director, was even asked about the altercation during one of his post-win interviews, which I think is completely unnecessary as again, it takes away from his victory from that night.

Ultimately, I think this is one of those moments in pop culture that will trend on Twitter, and a bunch of memes will be made out of it. It started trending on Twitter like the moment that it happened, and it’ll probably be forgotten by next week just because of how quickly the media cycles out of things. I feel like there’s always some sort of scandal, big or small, in the Oscars, like how “La La Land” was initially wrongly awarded for Best Picture instead of “Moonlight” back in 2016. But yeah, I do believe this is an interesting way to remember this years’ Oscars, as there were also a lot of special wins too, like Troy Kotsur being the first deaf male to ever be nominated and win an Oscar, which he won for Best Supporting Actor, and Jane Campion was one of three females that has ever been awarded the Best Director award. So yeah, the Chris and Will situation is definitely an interesting addition.

That’s all for this special episode of “Working Title,” and I hope you all enjoyed. Make sure to come back in a few days to check out my full Oscars picks, predictions and reactions. Thanks for listening!