By Parker Reed and Julia Demskie
The Oscars–on Sunday, March 27– hosted more than just renowned actors from all categories of timeless movies, but also the source of gossip that would be heard from the mouths of millions in the days following.
Chris Rock, a comedian and actor, was a presenter at this year’s Oscars and, while delivering punch lines that prompted laughter from all attendees, Chris Rock made a comment that would shock the world.
His words “Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it” generated a variety of responses. Jada Pinkett Smith’s eyes rolled, gasps from the audience, and hanging jaws from viewers at home didn’t amount to the unexpected response from the actor and husband of Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith.
Many women of color, like Jada Pinkett Smith, are suffering from alopecia, which is a condition that has no cure, and causes you to lose all your hair. She has been very transparent in the media about her struggles with accepting the reality of hair loss. She described the “terrifying” moment she realized she was losing “handfuls of hair” in the shower in an episode of her talk show.
Racism and patriarchy have taught, and ultimately convinced black women that their natural beauty is unattractive, undesirable, and must be altered in order to fit in culturally. Hair has always been associated with a woman’s worth; yet black women have spent a fortune on hair care products in order to make it fit the standards built by frail men and discriminatory ideas. Chris Rock’s statements are contributing to the negative rhetoric around black women’s hair, and giving the disrespectful way black women’s hair has been politicized and derided for millennia a fresh lease on life.
Chris Rock’s statements are contributing to the negative rhetoric around black women’s hair, and giving the disrespectful way black women’s hair has been politicized and derided for millennia a fresh lease on life.
It’s worth noting that maybe Will Smith didn’t comprehend the gravity of the joke at first, because he is initially seen laughing at Chris Rock’s words. It wasn’t until he looked at his wife, who was clearly irritated, that he reacted. He crossed the stage and slapped Chris Rock across the face, leaving everyone startled at home and in the theater. The words said between Chris Rock and Will Smith are muted in the United States, but what attendees at the Oscars and worldwide viewers heard was Will Smith’s thunderous voice repeating the phrase “get my wife’s name out of your f—ing mouth.”
After winning best male actor a mere 20 minutes later, Will Smith apologized and used his love for his family and need to protect them as an excuse for his actions.
The encounter between Will Smith and Chris Rock surpassed 70 million views in less than 24 hours, spawning not only memes, but also worldwide discourse that puts what our society values and praises into question. People are beginning to ask questions like the following. Is Will Smith’s behavior justified? Shouldn’t Will Smith and Chris Rock know better? Is it necessary for Jada Pinkett Smith’s husband to fulfill the role of “protector”?
Pinkett Smith’s exasperated eye roll after the joke led many to believe that she intended to take the high road and act like a grown-up, unlike her husband, who chose to act like a young child throwing a temper tantrum. His actions not only reinforced the notion that violence is the answer–which should never be the case– but that women are constantly threatened by, and need protection from the poisonous masculine culture that surrounds us all.
Jada never asked for her husband to go and protect her. So why did we witness Will Smith feel the need to play the hero on national television? It was most likely unintentional.
He may have acted on the fear that Rock’s insensitive remark would detract from his wife’s progress in accepting her bald natural hair, especially at one of the world’s most famous and photographed events. He was just advocating for his wife- but this makes you wonder about men’s deeply rooted protectionism, devoted to their wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters.
Mothers and fathers teach their offspring from birth to stand up for themselves and fight for what they believe in. Yet, Will Smith, a husband and father, contradicts this when he sends the message that women can’t stand up for themselves, since it is a man’s job to protect his family.
The reason parents spend so much time urging children to “use their words, not their fists” is that it teaches guys (and many girls) how to manage their anger without retaliating violently. It teaches ascending men an understanding of violent behavior: it’s empty suit power, without inner emotional resilience or the courage to challenge toxic “macho” conventions.
How deeply established is the male instinct to save women, and how can we prevent future tragedies like Will Smith’s? What would Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Chris Rock do if we could go back in time and alter the events? Perhaps they would have exchanged a look of dissatisfaction and left it at that. Maybe Jada would have stood up for herself and outed Chris Rock’s wrongdoings. Whatever alternate world we concoct in our heads can’t take away from the fact that Will Smith acted irresponsibly, and toxic masculinity may be to blame for his rash behavior. So, let’s use this tragic situation as a learning opportunity and a method to collectively redefine masculine standards around the globe.