Oscars Will Smith

Given that the Oscars‘ viewership numbers have been steadily declining over the past few years, the Academy devised a number of new strategies in a bid to increase engagement this time around. To shorten the punishing runtime, they announced that eight awards — documentary short, editing, make-up and hair, original score, production design, animated short, live action short and sound — would be presented an hour before the ceremony and then edited in to the live broadcast. To recognise more mainstream movies, they launched an Oscars Fan Favourite Award, in which Twitter users could vote for their favourite 2021 movie, even if it hadn’t received any nominations. They arranged for a performance of ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ the Billboard-topping smash hit song from Encanto, even though traditionally, only those songs nominated for Best Original Song are performed during the ceremony. But none of the Academy’s carefully calculated “viral” moments could ever hope to come close to the gripping spectacle and spontaneous chaos of Academy Award nominee (and eventual winner) for Best Actor Will Smith punching presenter Chris Rock.

Also Read: The Full List Of The Oscars 2022 Winners

Chris, presenting the award for Best Documentary Feature, made a joke about Smith’s wife Jada – “Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it.” The implied punchline was that Jada, who is bald, resembles the film’s titular character who shaves her head. The actress has been vocal about her struggles with alopecia and baldness for a while now and made her displeasure evident on camera. Will, who initially laughed off the joke, noticed her discomfort and stormed onto the stage, punched Chris and walked back to his seat. Stunned, all Chris could say was, “Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me.” What initially seemed like a strange but rehearsed bit only dawned on viewers as real when Will, now visibly angry, shouted twice, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!” Reeling and out of breath, Chris responded, “Greatest night in the history of television.” Despite an effort to carry on with the rest of the show as planned, with Questlove accepting the Oscar for his documentary Summer of Soul, it was apparent that the mood inside the Dolby Theatre was uncomfortable following the outburst.

Will himself won Best Actor 15 minutes later and appeared shaken. Through tears and a long-drawn-out speech, he attempted to justify his behaviour by drawing parallels between him and his character Richard Williams, father of tennis champions, Serena and Venus. “Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” he said. The actor also pointed out that fellow nominee Denzel Washington had offered him some advice following the incident – “In your highest moment, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you.”

A moment that should have been the highlight of the actor’s professional life will now forever be shadowed by a personal altercation. While shocking at first glace, it’s on trend for an awards ceremony that’s now more remembered for its missteps than for its triumphs. Think of the Oscars of the past years – the 2017 La La Land/Moonlight mixup, last year’s decision to save the Best Actor category for the end on the assumption that Chadwick Boseman posthumously winning it would make for an emotional finale, only for him to lose to Anthony Hopkins, and now this. For an award show that’s grown increasingly reliant on meticulously crafted image management, it’s ironically the shock of the unexpected that always seems to garner it eyeballs.

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