The 94th Academy Awards turned surreal when Chris Rock made a joke at the expense of Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, causing Best Actor nominee Will to ascend to the stage and slap Rock in the face. Did Will Smith actually hit Rock in a moment of emotion, or was the incident staged?
Rock made a joke about Jada’s shaved head, and while Will initially laughed at the jab, Jada was visibly unamused, which may have led to the slap. Rock himself looked utterly taken aback, causing NPR’s @lindaholmes to tweet, “I might have wondered if it was a bit, except that the entire Chris Rock persona collapsed, instantly.”
Other viewers echoed the shockwaves, with reporter @mwhittingtontv tweeting, “Wait that wasn't staged?? I'm so confused,” and “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah writing, “Wtaf????? That wasn't scripted?????” Shortly after the incident, Variety's executive editor and Oscar attendee Ramin Setoodeh confirmed that the moment was 100% real.
Setoodeh’s statement was supported by Smith’s speech when he won Best Actor, in which he tearfully (but vaguely) apologized for his actions. Smith could’ve had a number of reasons to hit Rock — including Jada’s struggles with the hair loss disease alopecia — but as the Academy itself tweeted after the incident, violence is nothing to condone.