There are two narratives about the Will Smith Oscars slap. Both of them are true.

Yesterday we watched pop culture history in the making. 

In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, one of the world's biggest stars walked onto the 2022 Oscars stage and slapped one of the world's most successful comedians. 

In a fit of rage. 

In full public view. 

Dubbed "The Slap Heard Around The World", it instantly became a 'remember when' moment. A moment that will be discussed and debated and dissected for years to come. 

It was a surreal moment because we're used to seeing celebrities at their most 'manufactured'. Especially at events like the Oscars. They smile and wave on the red carpet. Laugh along at the host's jokes, even when they're the butt of them. They thank all the right people during their acceptance speech. And have just the right amount of fun at the after parties. Every movement, every word is carefully crafted to ensure that if they do become the viral story from the event, it's for the right reasons. 

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Will Smith striking Chris Rock threw all of this out of the window. It felt like a glitch in the matrix, like we were seeing something we definitely weren't supposed to. 

It also felt surreal because of the sheer speed of the incident. Just seconds before Smith stalked onto the stage, Rock had made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's shaved head. 

"Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can't wait to see you," the comedian said. It's important to note here that Pinkett Smith's head is currently shaved because she was diagnosed with alopecia in 2018, an auto-immune disease which leads to significant hair loss. 

At first, Smith appeared to laugh along with the joke, then he quickly walked on stage, hit Rock, and sat back down. 

The slap happened so quickly that no one - not Rock, not the crowd, not the people working behind the scenes at the biggest award show in the world - knew whether it was real or staged. 

It was only when Smith returned to his seat next to his wife and yelled out, twice, "KEEP MY WIFE'S NAME OUT OF YOUR F**KING MOUTH," that we realised this moment was 100 per cent genuine. 

There was real, unmitigated rage in Smith's face. 

Rock was noticeably shaken. 

The crowd was shook. 

For a split second the world was lost for words, and then suddenly, like the sound of wind whooshing past your ears, the world became incredibly loud. 


Within minutes, a fierce debate about the incident erupted on social media. And in the coming hours, it seemed like everyone had an opinion. And everyone had chosen a firm side.

Celebrities and social media personalities were releasing 'personal statements' about the incident. 

Fights erupted in the comments sections. Twitter was more of a bin fire than normal. TikToks were hastily recorded and uploaded before the next award had even been handed out. 

There were arguments about the slap, people's opinions about the slap, and who should actually get an opinion in the first place.

Soon, it became clear there were two distinct 'sides' to the argument. And that each side couldn't fathom listening to the other side.

Battle lines were firmly drawn. 

First, there were those who believed Smith was justified in his reaction. The people on this side of the fence argued that Smith's violence was a reaction to a long history of black women being the butt of the joke. They argued that by making fun of Pinkett Smith's auto-immune disease and her hair, Rock had crossed an uncrossable line. A line that had been crossed way too many times before. 

A quick peruse of Twitter will show you how much the joke upset women of colour who have been the target of this kind of public humiliation for far too long. 


People on this side of the argument believed Smith was standing up for not only his wife, but a group who had been maligned forever, and a group that felt visceral relief that someone had finally stood up for them in such a public manner. 


Alongside this group were those that were outraged that a joke had been made about a woman's auto-immune disease in the first place. 

This group was also rightfully angry because they had witnessed people with illnesses and disabilities being the butt of cheap jokes for far too long.  

Both these groups could sit right where Pinkett Smith was sitting in that moment and feel deep empathy for her. They could also feel the rage Smith felt. 


The people on this side of the fence are right. 

On the other side of the fence are the people who strongly believe that violence is never the answer, no matter the question. 

These people believe that by striking Rock, Smith bought into a dangerous narrative that's all too real for anyone who's ever been a victim of men's violence. Or lost someone they love to men's violence. 


For these people, seeing the pure rage in Smith's face, and witnessing a man lose control and act out in violence, was extremely triggering. 

Glennon Doyle summed it up best when she posted on Instagram: "Violence is never "proof of love". That's a deadly idea that has fueled and excused domestic (and all) violence for far too long."


Twenty minutes after the slap, Smith once again stepped onto the Oscars stage. This time to accept the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Venus and Serena Williams' father Richard in King Richard

He cried throughout the speech, explaining that "love makes you do crazy things". He attempted to compare himself to Richard Williams, saying like Richard, he is a family man who will do anything to protect his family. Once again, buying into the narrative that it's okay to be violent in the right circumstances. 

Smith then apologised to the academy and his fellow nominees. He apologised to the crowd. He didn't, notably, apologise to Rock. 

Smith's speech garnered a standing ovation and after the ceremony wrapped up, he was celebrated by the industry, with footage of him dancing to his music at the Vanity Fair afterparty going viral. 


People on this side of the fence believe the celebration of Smith only further cements the dangerous narrative around men's violence and rage. 

These people are right too. 

Both of these narratives can be true at the same time. 

Chris Rock's joke was deplorable. In a five-second soundbite he made fun of an autoimmune disease that many women silently suffer from. A disease that is misunderstood and underrepresented in mainstream media. 

In that same five second soundbite, he diminished Pinkett Smith's role as one of the most successful women of colour in Hollywood and turned her into a cheap punchline. 

In that five second soundbite, he also made light of the pain she had endured over the last four years while dealing with her diagnosis and its impact on her self image. 

It was a terrible joke, and Smith and Pinkett Smith, and everyone watching from home, had every right to be mad. But that doesn't excuse the use of violence. 

Furthermore, Rock has form. At the 2018 Oscars, he made another joke about Pinkett Smith, referring to her as a "TV actor". And you only have to do a light Google to find all of Rock's other controversies. In 2020, he defended fellow comedian Jimmy Fallon's use of blackface in a 2011 skit.


It's understandable that Smith had reached his breaking point. And he had every right to call out Rock's behaviour. But that still doesn't excuse violence. 

LISTEN: What really lead to the Will Smith Oscars slap. Post continues below.

Two men behaved appallingly in the heat of the moment. And at the end of the day, there were no winners in this situation.

Not Rock who was assaulted on live TV. Not Smith who will be forever marred by the violence of his actions. Not Pinkett Smith who will forever be associated with Rock's joke and Smith's reaction to it. And certainly not the millions of people around the world who felt deep fear, and anger, and sadness watching all this play out on their TVs and on social media. 

There are no winners in this situation. But it could be a learning opportunity. A chance for us to put down our pitchforks and - if only for a moment - listen to the other side. A chance for us to realise that two truths can exist at the same time. 

There are two narratives surrounding this moment. And both of them, unfortunately, are true. 

Keryn Donnelly is Mamamia's Pop Culture Editor. For more of her TV, film and book recommendations and to see photos of her dog, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.

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