Chris Rockit’s a joke about Jada Pinkett SmithLack of hair was not a very good joke – stupid, lazy and given that she suffers from alopecia, cruel. Will SmithSmith’s violent response to this joke—the slap in the face, the “get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth”—was far worse. And given some key biographical details about Smith’s early experiences, it’s even more devastating.
Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith have been very open about the struggles and ultimately about opening up their marriage (who knows what’s really going on in their marriage, by the way, all marriages have their own unique codes , after all). What interests me most, however, is that heartbreaking physical abuse was a big part of Smith’s childhood and it lingered on his psyche.
In particular, he was tormented by memories of his father beating his mother as a young child, and feels remorse over his failure to protect her. attention, the characters and the laughs – there was a subtle series of apologies to my mother for my inaction that day,” he wrote in his 2021 autobiography, Will. “For letting her down in the moment. For not standing up to my father. For being a coward. .to hide the coward.”
Smith even admits in his memoirs to having fantasized about killing his father, especially later in life when the latter was confined to a wheelchair: “I stopped at the top of the stairs. I could push him down and walk away. pull easily.” he writes in a poignant moment. “I’m Will Smith. No one would ever believe I killed my dad on purpose. I’m one of the best actors in the world. My 911 call would be Academy Award level. Over the decades of pain, anger and of resentment ran and then faded, I shook my head and led Daddio to the bathroom.
The tension that lingered after the slap, however, was over the expectation that Smith, the odds-on favorite to win Best Actor for his portrayal of the overbearing tennis coach father, Richard Williamswould likely return to the stage soon after to accept his gold trophy. Advised during commercial breaks by his publicist and other actors, Smith might have been able to demonstrate higher masculinity by admitting his mistake, apologizing profusely, and acknowledging a very public display. Not only would that have been the most dexterous maneuver of a, well, Human perspective, but it probably would have been the shrewdest PR move too.
Alas, Smith did not meet my hopeful expectations. He defended his violence as a form of love and protection, saying he was protecting his co-stars. Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidneyand Half Singletonall women, just like the character he played. He claimed he was called to be a “vessel of love” and a “river for his people”. (Last time I checked people can choose their own rivers…) Smith then apologized to his fellow nominees and the academy, but especially not to the man he has assaulted. Excusing violence in the name of love sounds a lot like the words of a violent man absolving his actions towards his wife and children.
Most disappointing to me, Smith basically claimed that his moment of violence was life imitating art. In the process, he ruined the great story he was lucky enough to help bring to life, hurt the Williams family, and missed an opportunity to show men and boys how to break something and fix it, how apologize. I wish he hadn’t hit Rock or shouted profanities angrily. But I wish even more that when he had a second chance on stage, he would have said something different.
What could he have said? Something like: “I apologize to my brother Chris Rock, who managed to keep the show going after I punched him in the face. I apologize to my wife, my family, the Williams family and to everyone who worked so hard to be part of this party night. I resorted to violence in response to the words, and that’s not the right way. That’s not what I’m for. want to be known. That’s not what I believe I’m called upon to do in this world. To the little boys who look up to me, I apologize. Sometimes even us trained professionals lose control of our emotions, and tonight was emotional. Chris’ joke hurt my wife, who you know has a condition that impairs hair growth. I thought defending her meant hitting him, but I was wrong. As someone who portrayed Muhammed Ali, an advocate for peaceful protest, I know better As a boy, I missed a chance to defend dre my mother against abuse. I’ve written about it and it’s clear I’m still dealing with it. Apparently, I’m dealing with it in the worst possible way, at the worst possible time, right now at the Oscars. Now, about that price…”
It could have been a transformative moment, but instead we got a rambling vindication. We had a black man assaulting another black man. We asked Smith to focus on historic winners like soul summer, CODA and other powerful creations, and somehow managing to make us forget Beyoncé!
I admit it is easy for me to opine on what Smith could and should have done, as I write this from home on a Monday morning. I do not live under his immense public scrutiny. I don’t know if I could have recovered better from such a mistake than him. We saw him process his emotions live, painfully and tearfully, and most of us will never experience a similar situation, with such strong emotions coming together in such a burning and public moment. what I can do, as an observer, is to consider as much of the image as I can access, and strive to find meaning or a lesson beyond the spectacle.
One of those precious moments in the midst of the chaos struck me: the sight of other men trying to calm Smith down. It reminded me of the short video that recently went viral of a six-year-old calming his four-year-old brother with his breathing. for Denzel Washington, Tyler Perryand bradley cooperwho modeled another version of love and protection. I only wish they could have gotten Smith to breathe before he left his chair the first time around.
Many of us spend our lives coping with childhood trauma, not being fully aware of how we are overcompensating, often in ways that once helped us but no longer serve us as adults. therapist, but I see a connection between his Oscar moment and his own admission that his life is “a carefully crafted, honed character designed to protect me. To hide me from the world. To hide the coward.”
Will Smith basically chose a life in which he become other people to hide from the person inside. He built a version of himself that could contain the version he was ashamed of. Last night, as he received the highest honor in his field, Smith’s ability to compartmentalize plummeted; he couldn’t hide anymore. This carefully constructed character fell apart.
Hope he can fix what he broke. But what about the rest of us? What unprocessed emotions are we sitting on? What characters did we build to survive? Do we have the tools and the community to recognize and incorporate them constructively “I never expected an awards show to give me the opportunity to ask these questions. I hope Will Smith will same.”