Will Smith
Will Smith Image Credit: Ador Bustamante/Gulf News

The urban dictionary would likely define ‘smack talk’ as disparaging banter that belittles others, and most usually is related to sports or other physical achievements. Were it to be an illustrated edition, then the image of Will Smith laying a looping right-handed, open-palmed whack to Chris Rock would most likely be included.

The word ‘star-struck’ also springs to mind

The smack — it will go down in popular lore now as simply that, “the smack” — provided a stunning moment during the 94th Academy Awards on last Sunday, with the King Richard star laying one on Rock after the stand-up comedian made a joke about the actor’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

Hollywood. Action movies. Stunts. Was it all part of the show? A reminder that it’s live and audiences are back after being left out for the past two years because of coronavirus?

No. It was unscripted

Smith, accepting the best actor Oscar in King Richard, later apologised to the film academy and his fellow nominees as tears streamed down his face. But he did not address Rock and attempted to justify what he did.

“Art imitates life,” he sobbed. “I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things” Smith said as he was recognised for his role as Richard Williams, father of tennis greats Venus and Serena.

Rock, presenting the Oscar for best documentary feature, said that he was excited to watch Pinkett Smith in G.I. Jane 2.

In 2018, Pinkett Smith revealed she was diagnosed with a medical condition alopecia that caused her hair loss. Ridley Scott’s action film G.I. Jane (1997) starred Demi Moore as a woman who joins the Navy and shaves her head during her military service.

Smith then marched to the stage at the Dolby Theatre and hit Rock. The sound then cut out on the US broadcast, but Smith appeared to be shouting the words: “Keep my wife’s name out of your [expletive] mouth!”

In his acceptance speech, Smith appeared to compare the incident to Richard Williams’ fiery spirit.

“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” Smith said in his speech, fighting back tears while saying he got the chance to “protect” his co-stars in King Richard, adding the sentence: “I want to be a vessel for love.”

Feisty and fisty

Heck — he’s got a feisty and fisty way of showing it, right hand and all.

The extraordinary moment set off a frenzy of conversation on social media, where the moment was intensely dissected. In the wake of the incident, many tweeted that it was odd that the show’s producers forged ahead with the show.

It’s since emerged that Smith was asked to leave the Hollywood venue after the incident. He didn’t, and the Academy is now considering what further action they need to take against the proven-box office earner — and his Oscar will only add to that appeal.

Both Rock and Smith have history.

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US actor Will Smith (R) slaps US actor Chris Rock speaks onstage during the 94th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 27, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

In 2016, Rock hosted the Oscars and joked about Pinkett Smith and her husband boycotting over #OscarsSoWhite, an online movement which began as a way to address the lack of diversity at the Academy Awards.

Rock declared that the Smiths, as well as Black director Spike Lee “went mad” over the issue as there were no Black acting nominees that year.

“Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s parties,” Rock said during his opening monologue. “I wasn’t invited.”

Pinkett Smith’s anger

Rock went on to joke that he understood Pinkett Smith’s anger.

“Jada’s mad her man Will was not nominated for Concussion,” Rock said in reference to the 2015 football film Will Smith starred in. “I get it. It’s not fair that Will was this good and didn’t get nominated. It’s also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for [the 1999 film] Wild Wild West.

Pinkett Smith commented on the jokes days later when asked about them by paparazzi.

Smith and Rock’s relationship goes back to the 1990s. Rock guest starred on Smith’s hit series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air where he played a character named Maurice and Maurice’s sister Jasmine.

The actor’s victory Sunday night represents a career milestone for one of the defining and top-grossing Hollywood stars of the last 30 years.

Smith, who got his start as a hip-hop MC and star of The Fresh Prince, rocketed to movie superstardom in the 1990s with hits such as Bad Boys, Independence Day and Men in Black.

In the years since, Smith has balanced blockbusters with roles in Oscar-courting dramas.

He was nominated for Ali in 2002, the year Washington became only the second Black man to win best actor, for Training Day. He was nominated five years later for The Pursuit of Happyness but lost to Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland.

On Monday, Smith apologised to Rock, saying that “violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive.”

He said: “Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally.”

He also repeated his apology to the film academy, as well as “the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world.”

For all of the focus on Smith, Rock actually handled himself with aplomb, choosing to turn the other cheek, as it were. He kept his composure after he was slapped, joking that it was the “greatest night in the history of television.”

He has declined to press charges.

Maybe so, but the jury is indeed very much still out now on what happens next to Smith’s Oscar.

With inputs from agencies