(April 2, 2022). I wasn’t going to write about this past week’s slapping incident at the Oscars. But the list of ironies are too numerous to pass up. Plus, I’ve been in a rut the past two weeks and this (still) seemed as relevant a topic as any to bring me out of it.
Now, I know I’m six days after-the-smack and many of y’all are probably tired of reading and hearing about Sunday’s Oscars (March 27), so I’ll skip all of those details and the many different takes by celebrities, news anchors, psychologists, sports analysts, bloggers, social media experts and anyone else with an opinion about why Smith did what he did and whether or not he was justified.
Smith seems to be doing what he should now: owning his actions, apologizing publicly to Rock, resigning from The Academy (Friday, April 1), and being more vulnerable. But it doesn’t change the fact that many people, including Smith, are still triggered and reeling over the incident that will forever stain his career and be a permanent asterisk in Academy Awards history.
But instead of dwelling on all of that, this article delves into the many head-spinning ironies and strange coincidences that Will Smith’s actions created in the span of less than a week. Leave it to djrobblog to lay them all out for you right here, beginning with one involving the joke that started it all.
The G.I. Jane joke preceded the most non-G.I. Joe moment imaginable
When Will Smith walked up to Chris Rock and sucker-slapped him after Rock’s G.I. Jane quip about wife Jada Pinkett Smith, then quickly walked away shouting obscenities while comfortably seated next to the same wife he laughed at moments earlier, viewers probably couldn’t have witnessed a less “G.I. Joe” moment. Smith must have known that he was in a “safe” enough environment where immediate retaliation was unlikely. Can you imagine if Rock had followed what is a natural instinct of many humans and punched him back—right there on stage with hundreds of millions of people around the world watching? Nah, Smith knew that wasn’t going to happen, so he chose the route he did. G.I. Joe would never have done that, at least not the toy one I had growing up.
In a related irony, how many of us would’ve even remembered the G.I. Jane joke had Will not reacted as he did? Now, we’ll likely remember it forever.
The very man Smith portrayed in his Oscar-winning performance didn’t condone Smith’s “performance” that night.
Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, knows a thing or two about having to protect women—particularly Black women—based on the barrage of insults both he and they have had to endure over the three decades that they’ve been in the global spotlight. Those insults ironically began with quips about the two tennis legends’ hair—specifically, their braids and white hair beads—and how they didn’t belong on the tennis court with the other girls. But Williams made it clear where he stood on the Smith/Rock incident (notably in the wake of Will’s acceptance speech invoking “the crazy father” instinct he likened to Williams). In a statement via his son Chavoita SaVane, King Richard said he didn’t condone violence in any form unless it was in self defense, which Smith’s attack clearly wasn’t.
Black Hair Part One:
Yes, Black women’s hair is a very sensitive topic, especially in a society that has historically devalued and judged our women on the basis of their hair for centuries. But make no mistake, Smith wasn’t “protecting” Black women in general when he sucker-slapped Rock. And Jada Pinkett wasn’t exactly wiping away tears when Rock made the hair joke.
Instead, Smith was triggered by something none of us will ever know or truly understand. Black woman’s collective hair experience didn’t even get a mention in the rapper/actor’s acceptance speech later that night as he attempted to explain his actions. Richard Williams’ name, however, did. As it turned out, Smith wasn’t following the example King Richard set for his world-famous daughters and millions of others who’ve had to endure a lot worse for a lot longer.
Hair Part 2: And speaking of daughters and hair, Willow Smith has been silent, but is unwittingly connected to all of this.
Jada Pinkett Smith has said that it was her daughter Willow Smith—of 2010’s “Whip My Hair” fame—who convinced Mom to shave her head as a gesture to draw attention to her Alopecia and in support of others with the auto-immune deficiency. Separately, leading up to the Oscars, Willow had been riding the Billboard Hot 100 charts for six months with her song “Meet Me At Our Spot,” credited to her group THE ANXIETY with Tyler Cole (the song is outstanding by the way, see her perform it live below!).
In an odd coincidence of timing, Willow’s “Meet Me At Our Spot” fell off the Hot 100 during the week preceding her dad’s unfortunate “meeting” with Rock at the spot where the slap occurred, ending a stellar chart run and apparently creating the vacuum that necessitated the Smiths being placed in our lives again for what will likely be months more of incessant unsolicited coverage. Where’s that online petition again?
Hair Part 3: “#OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair” was the original tweet that sparked the hashtag seen around the world, and that hashtag is still relevant.
April Reign, a lawyer and social media influencer, created the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag in 2015, a year when all 20 acting nominations went to white actors. Seven years later, there’ve been some strides, but don’t get it twisted or braided (okay, bad pun). The fact that Will Smith became the fifth Black man to take home the Best Actor role doesn’t change the fact that the Oscars still have issues recognizing people of color (both men and women) in their industry.
Smith is only the fifth Black male in 94 Oscar ceremonies to win the award. It’s just ironic (and unfortunate) that Smith’s accomplishment will always be overshadowed by this event. And while we’re on the race topic, many have argued that the Smith/Rock incident is symptomatic of the larger issue involving Blacks and violence in our communities. That inappropriately plays into a convenient but dangerous narrative that unfairly marginalizes us, especially in this case where the perpetrator of the attack was as much a part of a privileged Hollywood society as any other actor—Black or otherwise—present that night.
The “Summer of Soul” documentary was robbed of its Oscar moment by a guy whose first top-10 hit was a soulful “Summertime” tune.
In 1991, Will Smith—as part of DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince—achieved his first top-10 pop hit with “Summertime,” a song that heavily sampled a soulful ‘70s groove by Kool & the Gang (“Summer Madness”). Thirty years later, fellow Philly hip-hop pioneer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson directed the documentary Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). It won the very Oscar that Chris Rock was presenting when the Artist Formerly Known as Fresh Prince attacked him.
More about Summer of Soul: Ten takeaways from an amazing film!
The obvious Philly and soulful summer connections between Smith and Thompson aside, who among us could’ve imagined two Black hip-hop legends winning major non-music-related awards at the same Oscars ceremony just seven years after the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag first appeared, only to have both their accomplishments overshadowed by Smith’s actions (not to mention Chris Rock’s lame “and four white guys” joke, which fell flat as he announced the three non-Black producers of the winning film).
(Quick check: without scrolling up, name the category and winner of the award Rock presented shortly after he was slapped.)
Speaking of the actual awards, the Beyoncé-got-snubbed factor, Part Deux.
This one’s a stretch, but the coincidences couldn’t be ignored. In 2009, Beyoncé was famously snubbed by then-19-year-old Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards when Bey’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” lost to Swift’s “You Belong With Me” for Best Female Video. That night a rapper (Kanye West) rushed the stage to “protect” Beyoncé’s honor.
Last week at the Oscars a rapper (Smith) rushed the stage to “protect” Jada’s (another Black woman’s) honor. That same night, Beyoncé again was snubbed—this time by 20-year-old Billie Eilish in the category for Best Original Song for a Motion Picture when Bey’s “Be Alive” (coincidentally from King Richard) lost to Eilish’s James Bond theme “No Time To Die.” While the circumstances were completely different for the two incidents, and Beyoncé’s Oscar snub had nothing to do with the Smith/Rock incident, both rappers’ onstage antics coincidentally occurred at major awards ceremonies where Beyoncé famously lost to younger white women about to be or barely out of their teens. #StopTheBeyonceSnubWhenRappersArePresent
And finally, the first Black Best Actor winner won a Grammy for spoken-word performance more recently than Smith’s last Grammy win for rapping.
In 1964, Sidney Poitier became the first Black man to win the Best Actor award for his lead role in 1963’s Lilies of the Field. In 2001, he won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for his autobiographical The Measure of a Man. Ironically, the last time Smith—who won the very first rap performance Grammy in 1989–took home a statue was his 2000 Grammy win for “Wild Wild West.” That means Poitier surprisingly has won a Grammy for “talking” on record more recently than Smith did for rapping.
Put another way, Will Smith—originally a musician—has won an Oscar more recently than Sidney Poitier, while Poitier—the iconic actor—has won a Grammy more recently than Smith. Maybe that altered universe is fitting in a rare year when the Oscars actually occurred before the Grammys (Sunday, April 3).
In January 2022, Poitier died at the age of 94, just months before Smith’s slap/Oscar win/Academy resignation. So while the rapper’s Oscar win conversely reverses the Grammy/Oscar sequence achieved by Poitier, it’s even more poignant that Poitier died in the same year that all of this occurred and that he didn’t live to see the most recent winner have to resign from the Academy within days of joining their elite group.
There are plenty more of these odd circumstances that astute readers can point out, like the fact that a Black man committed assault on live television and wasn’t immediately approached by security and escorted off of the premises, or worse. But that gets back to Smith’s place in society, which was discussed above.
All ironies and coincidences aside, hopefully Will, Chris, Jada and others affected by last Sunday’s triggering events get the help and support they need to heal and grow from it.
Feel free to provide your views in the comment section below or on any social media feeds where this article is posted.
DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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