Everybody has an opinion on the slap heard around the world. The Oscars on March 12 reignited conversations about two of entertainment’s most celebrated men. They were the butt of jokes by the 2023 Oscars host, fodder for every journalist who can write an opinion, and a major topic of discussion among some of us Black people.
I had a double dose of Smith and Rock the night before the Oscars. With some other film lovers, I watched Will Smith in Emancipation. Though not on our agenda, we could not help but talk about the slap. That same evening, I watched the Chris Rock Netflix special, Selective Outrage. Seeing these two men back-to-back exhibit their talents in such stunning ways, I ached for them and for all of us who are witnessing this episode in their lives.
Two rich and famous Black men torn asunder by an ill-conceived act of chivalry. They say that chivalry is dead. On the night of the Oscars in 2022, many of us wish that chivalry would not have been awakened. After a period of absence from the public, Will Smith made what I thought was a contrite and sincere video apology to Chris Rock. He apologized to everyone and took full blame and responsibility for what he did. He also said that, “If you hang on, we can be friends again.” Chris Rock obviously didn’t accept the apology and said so by calling it a “hostage video.”
Chris Rock put his response to the incident in his Netflix special, Selective Outrage, and timed the release to correspond with the anniversary of the slap. Before Selective Outrage, there may have been hope that, in time, the two men would get beyond the unfortunate and unforgettable incident. Now, I fear that there may never be a proper reckoning or any kind of sorrow and forgiveness.
Rock waited until the final minutes of his hour-long routine to clean his spleen about Smith. The unvarnished feelings that he conveyed were more than anger. There was fury. I felt that the anger he showed was not just for theater. His feelings of outrage seemed to be a fresh wound and not a bruise left over from a year ago. The bitterness of his retaliation was stunning.
Though the audience laughed at the revenge monologue, I want to believe that, upon reflection, many of them felt sympathy for both men who at the pinnacle of their careers are the butt of jokes and ridicule. Sadly, these two great talents have become a cliché.