2022: The Will Smith Academy Awards

- jim Young

Justice must not only be done but must manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.” - Lord Chief Justice Hewart 

Will Smith - Net Photo
(Evan Agostini/Invision/The Associated Press)
What Happened?

Like an anonymous FaceBook meme suggested, “If Will Smith had not slapped Chris Rock, I wouldn’t have even known the 2022 Oscars had happened.” So for anyone that is still blissfully unaware of these events, please forgive me as I momentarily impose on your bliss to bring you up to speed.

At the 94th Academy Awards held on March 27, 2022 Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair loss. Jada’s husband Will Smith appeared to first laugh at the joke and then, upon realizing that his wife did not find the joke funny, took offence, walked up on stage and bitch-slapped Chris Rock with an open hand on live TV.

Upon returning to his seat, Will Smith continued his assault by shouting “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.” 

Immediately following the incident, Chris Rock declined to press charges while those in charge of running the Academy presentation did pretty much nothing.

What Should Have Happened?

It is my understanding that in the U.S., in some circumstances at least, the victim has the right to choose if charges are laid or not. In Canada, I believe that it is solely the responsibility of the police to decide if charges should be laid. I am no legal expert, but if this is correct then the ball was in Chris Rock’s court and he chose to take the high road.

Regardless of the “legal implications” however, the Academy should have had Will Smith immediately and, if necessary, forcibly removed from the building by security to send a loud and clear message that this type of behaviour is unacceptable. In the following days, the Academy could then take their time to carefully consider the long term ramifications to best handle the situation as they have now done.

The Players

Jada Pinkett Smith

Part of being a celebrity involves being the butt of jokes by comedians and the general public alike. Celebrities are constantly pestered by paparazzi and their day to day life often becomes far less private than they might like it to be. There are legal limits to this to which, like everyone else, a celebrity is entitled to protection of their privacy. But for the most part, they are in the public eye and must accept this trade-off for their career choice. Jada Pinkett Smith, like every other celebrity, must accept this. That doesn’t mean she is required to like it. But she must accept it. For the record, there was nothing inappropriate with Jada’s reaction to the joke.

Chris Rock

Comedians have been poking fun at celebrities and public figures since… well forever. Sometimes comedians will push the limits of “good taste” but those limits are largely defined by their audience and the circumstances. To make things more complicated, the definition of “good” vs “bad” taste is largely subjective.

Jada Pinkett Smith’s struggle with hair loss is due to alopecia and is no doubt a very stressful issue for her. It’s not self imposed such as one who chooses to cover their body with tattoos, but it’s not as life threatening or devastating as cancer either.

There are those who may argue that Chris Rock’s joke was in poor taste. However, as pointed out earlier it is largely subjective and easily defendable. At the very least it was not deserving of the wrath of Will Smith’s physical attack.

Will Smith

Some people see Will Smith’s actions as romantic. The White Knight In Shining Armour arrives to defend the honour of his fair maiden.

But Will Smith is a hypocrite. He first laughed at Chris Rock’s joke because, well let’s face it, it was at least a little bit funny. It was only after he saw the scornful reaction of his “fair maiden” that he decided to take action.

What if everyone took it upon themselves to mete out punishment to a comedian’s remarks? How long would Don Rickles have lasted poking fun at Frank Sinatra if Sinatra had followed Will Smith’s example every time Rickles poked fun at him?

And more importantly, how will Will Smith’s actions affect the lives of comedians in the future? Will Comedians begin to self-censor their material from what might otherwise be funny acts for fear of assault from one or two members of the audience who take offence?

What Should or Shouldn’t Happen Next?

The Academy has already (and rightly so) banned Will Smith from attending the Academy Awards Ceremonies for the next 10 years. However, they stopped short of asking Will Smith to return the Oscar he won that night - the Oscar he should never have been permitted to accept. Will Smith can also be nominated for AND win Oscars during this time period. He just can’t attend the Academy to accept any future awards during this time period.

In essence, the Academy has bitch-slapped Chris Rock a second time.

Will Smith’s Oscar should be returned and Will Smith should be barred from future nomination during this 10 year period.

What worse punishment could an actor receive? More so than money, most actors are motivated by fame and glory and what bigger reward can they receive than the recognition from their peers in the form of winning an Oscar?

By taking this action, the Academy would be stating “Will Smith’s peers do NOT approve and will NOT tolerate this kind of behaviour.”

Should Will Smith be charged with assault? That’s up to Chris Rock. Had Chris Rock chosen to file charges then the answer would be a resounding “Yes”

In light of the fact that Rock did not, and in light of the fact that the Academy has meted out their own “watered-down” punishment, what would be the point of filing assault charges against Will Smith now?

The "intent" of the law is to discourage bad behaviour as determined by our peers, punish the offender AND where appropriate, require the offender to make restitution.

The point has been made that this behaviour is not acceptable at the Academy Awards and Will Smith has been punished for his behaviour.

Since there was no financial loss to Chris Rock or the Academy, restitution is not really applicable here. (If the truth be known, both Chris Rock and the Academy have likely benefited from the incident, although that should have no bearing on the matter regardless.)

But how many tax dollars for police officers, prosecuting attorneys, judges, jurors and courtroom time would be spent filing charges and processing them? Valuable courtroom time that could be devoted to other matters would be wasted. To what end? Will Smith could have received a misdemeanor and if found guilty, sentenced to up to 6 months in jail and a $100,000 fine. In reality, he would likely not have received any jail time and his fine would be much less - a pittance to you or I.

How would pressing charges against Will Smith further the "intent" of the law that the Academy has not already accomplished? 

I think in this case, the punishment would truly fit the crime, if the Academy would just ask for that darn statue back.

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