March 27 marked the annual Oscars — a night celebrating the best of Hollywood.
This year’s lineup was one of the most monumental to date, with Ariana Debose winning Best Supporting Actress as the first openly queer and Afro-Latinx woman, Troy Kotsur winning Best Supporting Actor as the first deaf man and many more notable accomplishments.
Unfortunately, these historical Hollywood moments were overshadowed by an unscripted outburst.
The fury began after comedian Chris Rock followed a series of jokes onstage with a comparison of actress Jada Pinkett Smith to the main character in the upcoming movie “G.I. Jane.”
In response to this, Pinkett Smith’s husband, Will Smith, stormed onto the stage and slapped Rock in the face.
The joke was undeniably insensitive. Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia and has dealt with hair loss with outstanding confidence. This was exemplified in her choice to show the effects of the disease and not dawn a wig to such a public event with Hollywood’s finest.
According to multiple sources, Rock claimed to have been unaware of Pinkett Smith’s condition prior to the show, although her appearance without coverings or a wig is another way in which she has been outspoken about her hair loss.
Even if this was the proven truth, Rock never issued an apology — and has yet to as of Sunday. Even if that was the first time the comedian realized she suffered from alopecia, an apology would have cleared his name and released much of the remaining tension between him and the couple that he has been friends with for years.
Sophomore elementary education major Madison Dubois said that the joke was completely uncalled for.
“Jada didn’t do anything to illicit that kind of joke, making it more of an attack than anything,” she said.
The friendship element of this whole fiasco is also troubling when the layers behind Rock’s joke are considered. There is a deeper issue here about Black hair — particularly female Black hair — not always being socially acceptable.
“When I first shaved my head, many people, including Black women, didn’t understand why I would do such a thing and automatically warned me that men would not find the bold move attractive,” NBC contributor Brennan Nevada Johnson wrote in an article.
Not to pull the “men dominate society card,” but let us review some facts: a man made a joke about a Black woman’s hair; the joke was made at an A-list event where men dominated nearly every category; there are unfair standards set in the workplace about which hairstyles are considered appropriate; most “appropriate” hairstyles for Black women with long hair hold cultural significance such as box braids.
The joke was much more than a comparison – it was an acknowledgement of the way Black women’s natural hair is perceived.
Inappropriate jokes are to be expected, with previous controversies surrounding presenters including Ricky Gervais, Kevin Hart and Jimmy Kimmel.
“Quips should be topical but not politically incorrect, taunting but not offensive, memorable but not controversial,” wrote Helena Andrews-Dyer, a contributor for Yahoo Entertainment.
This kind of ideal uncontroversial humor seldom graces our TV screens when in the hands of celebrity comedians or celebrity figures. The inevitability and general expectancy of inappropriate humor in Hollywood do not excuse Rock’s joke, nor does it condone Smith’s reaction to such a remark. The reasons for both are deeper than headline level.
And yet, perhaps Smith’s reaction (however shocking) illustrates how disgusting the joke really was.
“If Will Smith hadn’t done anything about Chris Rock’s comment on live, national TV, there wouldn’t be as much recognition for how inexcusable the joke was,” said Sydney McGavick, freshman Apparel Merchandising and Design major. “If he hadn’t reacted with as much hatred as people should have toward the offensive joke, the joke would’ve been left excused.”
All things evaluated and considered, there is no true winner in the scenario. Both Chris Rock and Will Smith made bad decisions, which neither has yet to directly apologize for.
(And no, Smith did not apologize to Rock for the physical harm, only his fellow nominees during his acceptance speech after winning Best Actor for his film “King Richard.”)
There can be no clear winner when neither has taken much of a moral “high road” so far.