Usually the day after the Oscars, I’m trying to find reasons to care. The lily-white party of mediocre Hollywood talent just isn’t that entertaining for Black people. But regardless, every year we begged the Academy Awards for inclusion. Now that we’ve finally started to make headway, two of my favorite Black men in Hollywood decide to turn the Oscars into an episode of the Chapelle Show and it broke my heart.
During the live airing of the 94th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre, my favorite actor in the world, Will Smith, walked onto the stage and full-on pimp slapped my favorite comedian in the whole world, Chris Rock after the host made a joke about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith.
When I saw Will cock back and open-hand slap Chris in the face, my heart immediately sunk. I didn’t know if it was real or fake, but I didn’t care. The pain I felt in my chest was real and warranted either way. Professionally I’ve also looked up to both of these men. Will Smith is practically an idol. I was born in Philadelphia and for a lot of kids who don’t find an attraction to the street life, Will Smith was a god. The first rapper to win a Grammy, and he did it without disparaging Black women and promoting violence within our culture. Even as an adult with grown children, Will still lives most of his life trying to inspire us. One of the things I’ve been inspired by the most is his openness to share his struggles in his marriage. Everyone struggles with relationships in all their forms. It’s a blessing and also refreshing to see a Black man be vulnerable. So often we aren’t allowed to show that. Black men need to understand that being vulnerable and allowing their emotions to come out is not only ok but healthy. Will showed me that. His videos about what hard work looks like literally helped me be the man I am today. But controlling those emotions is also a lesson every Black man must learn and Will missed an opportunity to show that.
And as for Chris, he’s funny, but the joke wasn’t. On the night your supposed friend wins his first Oscar is the night you decide to try out an alopecia joke when you know his wife struggles with the autoimmune condition? Why?
Black folks know you don’t talk about Black women’s hair. It’s one of the most disrespectful things you can do in our community. And Chris did it to one of our most beloved Black actresses on one of the biggest entertainment stages in the world. He’s also been taking shots a Jada for years.
Chris, like Will, is also one of my childhood heroes. He introduced me to comedy and my barometer of what I think is actually funny.
Sadly, perception is more about moments than your full body of work. And this moment will forever be lost. Don’t get me wrong Chris deserved to be slapped, but not on that stage in front of millions of people.
Will Smith is only the fifth Black man to win an Oscar for ‘Best Actor In A Leading Role’. He’s also only the second to be nominated for both acting and producing (Best Picture) in the same year. As Black men, we rarely get these moments of pride we can gravitate towards. I’m always giddy when the #blackgirlmagic hashtag is trending. I love seeing us celebrate the success of Black women. I also yearn for those moments as a Black man, but we rarely get them. The one time we do, instead of basking in a hashtag about black pride, I’m forced to talk about a pimp slap. It’s so disheartening.
My brother called on me on the phone this morning to give me his opinions on the slap heard around the world just as many Black relatives will be doing all week. During the convo he told me, “Hey bro, sometimes folks deserve to be slapped,” and I didn’t have a rebuttal because he was absolutely right.
But what if in the moment you represent something bigger than yourself?
Is it a celebrity’s duty to put ego and pride aside in moments when they represent the culture, so we as Black people can gain a small sense of gratification? Not really.
But damn, it would have been nice.
I get that this is all just entertainment and at the end of the day, dem rich folks gone be fine the Black ones included. But that moment is something that will be attached to my favorite actor’s MVP trophy–that is what saddens me the most. They will remember the moments and not the men and what their bodies of work represent for Black people all over the world.