“Will Smith practices selective outrage,” says Rock in his new Netflix comedy special.
One year after the slap that rocked the 2022 Oscars, the whole mess is back in the news. At last year’s Oscars, Will Smith slapped Chris Rock live on camera, in a moment that instantly became all anyone could remember from the night. Now, Rock is addressing the slap publicly for the first time in his Netflix special Selective Outrage.
“Y’all know what happened to me, getting smacked by Shug Smith,” Rock said at the end of his hour-long special, which streamed live on Netflix on March 4. “Everybody knows. Everybody fucking knows. Yes. It happened: Like a year ago, I got smacked at the fucking Oscars by this motherfucker.”
For those unfamiliar with the events, last year, Rock appeared onstage at the Oscars to present the award for best documentary. Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, were both seated in the front row, as Smith was the favorite to take home the Oscar for Best Actor later that night for his performance in the biopic King Richard.
As Rock worked the crowd in the lead-up to presenting the award, his attention seemed to snag on Pinkett Smith, who was wearing an army-green gown and whose head was shaved following a diagnosis with alopecia.
“Jada, I love you,” Rock said. “G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it, all right?”
As the camera cut to the Smiths for their reaction shots, Will could be seen laughing, but Jada looked deeply unamused. Rock went back to his presentation, and then seconds later, Smith marched onto the stage, slapped Rock in the face, and returned to his seat.
“Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth,” Smith shouted from the audience.
“Wow, dude,” said Rock. “It was a G.I. Jane joke.”
“Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth,” Smith repeated.
Shortly afterward, Smith won his Oscar as expected.
The fallout was explosive. The Academy swiftly issued a statement condemning Smith’s actions and making the claim (later disputed) that he was asked to leave the ceremony and declined. Within days, Smith resigned from the Academy. A few months later, the Academy announced that Smith was banned from attending the Oscars for the next 10 years.
Smith himself has spent the year on an apology tour of sorts. He issued a YouTube apology to Rock, and when he began promoting his new Civil War film Emancipation this fall, he made a point of displaying his contrition for the slap during nearly every interview he did. Rock, however, has avoided addressing the slap in public until now.
In his special, Rock riffed on the difference in stature between himself and Smith. “I know you can’t tell on the screen, but Will Smith is significantly bigger than me,” he said. “Will Smith does movies with his shirt off. You never seen me do a movie with my shirt off. If I’m in a movie getting open-heart surgery, I got on a sweater.”
He does not seem to have been charmed by the Emancipation apology tour, or by Emancipation itself. “I watch Emancipation just to see him get whooped,” Rock said.
Rock’s big theory, though, was that Smith had slapped him out of displaced anger at Pinkett Smith. “Will Smith practices selective outrage,” Rock said. “Everyone that really knows knows I didn’t have anything to do with that shit. I didn’t have any ‘entanglements.’”
There, Rock is referring to Pinkett Smith’s well-publicized relationship with the much-younger singer August Alsina, which she described as an “entanglement” in a 2020 episode of her Facebook talk show Red Table Talk. Over the course of the episode, the Smiths talked candidly about their marriage and said that they were separated at the time of the relationship but have since reunited.
“His wife was fucking her son’s friend,” Rock explained. (Apparently taking Smith’s warning to heart, Rock referred to Pinkett Smith solely as “his wife” throughout the special.) Rock went on to mock the idea of the Smiths interviewing each other about the incident. “Everybody in here been cheated on,” he said. “None of us have ever been interviewed by the person that cheated on us on television.”
Rock contended that Smith hit him because he was angry that Pinkett Smith’s “entanglement” had become public knowledge. “She hurt him way more than he hurt me. Everybody in the world called him a bitch,” Rock said. “And who’s he hit? Me!”
Pinkett Smith’s “entanglement” did indeed spawn a spate of public hand-wringing, but it didn’t hold a candle to the amount of public outrage that the slap engendered. On The View, Sharon Osbourne compared Smith to Hitler, and a Hollywood Reporter article lumped Smith in with a series of domestic abusers.
On the other side of the line, Smith’s defenders were nearly as vociferous. “Don’t say #protectBlackwomen for two years and then only condemn Will here. Come on…” said Jameela Jamil in a later-deleted tweet.
This year’s Oscars air Sunday night, and Academy CEO Bill Kramer has announced that he hired a “crisis response team” to handle future disruptions like the slap. “Because of last year, we’ve opened our minds to the many things that can happen at the Oscars,” he said.