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COMMENT: Art imitating life | Guest columns

Chris Rock was doing what comedians do when he told his now infamous joke on March 27, 2022 at the Oscars. Rock knew the joke wasn’t going well; however, I doubt he expected Will Smith to come on stage, slap him with a hard punch and yell at him. Rock kept his cool – an Oscar-worthy performance in my book – and finished presenting the Best Documentary award.

I’m not a big fan of stand-up comedy. I don’t think Rock’s Jada Pinkett Smith joke is funny. Pinkett, who suffers from alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss, is open about his condition. Rock’s joke that Pinkett, who boldly and bravely wears a shaved head, could star in “GI Jane 2” is a reference to the original “GI Jane” starring Demi Moore. Famous Moore shaved his head to play the role of GI Jane.

Amazingly, I go back a long way with Will Smith – all the way back to his “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” days. During his sit-com reign, I was known for saying that despite The Fresh Prince’s jokes about women, I found myself, incredibly, laughing. I’ve seen most, if not all, of Smith’s films. I wanted him to win the Oscar for “best actor”.

I watched Smith’s behavior at the Oscars with shock and sadness. Smith and Pinkett have been the butt of jokes before. They’ve been in show business since they were teenagers — long enough to know how to handle uncomfortable jokes. Indeed, Smith was laughing at Rock’s joke until he saw the look on his wife’s face.

I recognize that the Academy, the producers and the director were shocked by Smith’s behavior and knew that the award for “best actor” had not yet been announced. Most people thought Smith would win “Best Actor” for his portrayal of Venus and Serena Williams’ father Richard Williams in “King Richard.”

And, indeed, Smith won. His acceptance speech included an apology to the Academy and fellow nominees; but, he didn’t apologize to Rock. A day after the Oscars, Smith apologized again and included Rock in the apology on Instagram. The apology rings hollow given the photos from the party after the awards show where Smith and Pinkett are pictured shedding light on Smith’s aggressive behavior.

The photos of Oscar attendees’ responses when Smith punched Rock are shocking in themselves. Yet many of those same people gave Smith a standing ovation when he won the “Best Actor” award shortly after the incident. Many in that crowd partied with Smith and Pinkett after the Oscars.

The failure of the Academy, the producers and the director not to treat this situation as an assault is a sign of our public acceptance of violence in our daily lives. These people are professionals and have paid a lot of money to think. They failed miserably in doing their job.

Rock endured an “emperor wears no clothes” experience in front of the world. People knew what happened but acted like it didn’t happen except to check their phones for replays. The expectation of Rock continuing after being assaulted is disrespectful. So far, Rock hasn’t released a public statement; although he declined to press charges against Smith.

Security had to escort Smith out of the room. Rock needed to be seen by medical personnel to determine if his jawbone and eardrum were damaged. The police were to take statements from Smith and Rock as well as other people.

Someone from the Academy was to speak immediately after the commercial break to say that violence is not acceptable behavior and explain that due to the unfortunate situation, the award for “Best Actor” would be announced at a another date. Had the Academy taken immediate action, it would no longer be stuck between a rock and a hard place with people advocating for Smith’s Oscar cancellation.

I’m disappointed that Vanity Fair celebrated Smith’s Oscar win, including their band playing a number of his songs. They should have had the courage to ask Smith to leave given the violence of the evening. Rock didn’t attend the Vanity Fair party, but he did attend the Gucci party hosted at the home of Guy Oseary, music director of Madonna and U2.

Yes, I love movies but why am I emotionally invested in this Hollywood story? I couldn’t settle down until I wrote down what had happened. I’m one of those people who doesn’t always know what I’m thinking until I start writing. Still, I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about Will Smith punching Chris Rock onstage in front of the world. And, maybe that’s it – it’s a world story, not just a Hollywood story. It’s a global story about how easily we adapt to the violence before our eyes.