#OscarsSoBlack--and the slap heard round the world
The Monday Musings!
First, allow me to congratulate Will "Power" Packer, the 1996 graduate of Florida A&M University who has become one of Hollywood's leading power brokers, on becoming the first Black to produce/direct the Academy Awards in its 94 year history!
Will and Heather Packer on the red carpet before last night's ceremonies
As I joked on Facebook early last night, I typically fall into a deep, coma-like sleep early in the annual show because I am usually unfamiliar with the movies that are nominated (and the actors being lauded).
But last night I was awake and at rapt attention because from the outset of Packer's production, not only was Black (and HBCU) excellence celebrated on stage and backstage, from Wanda Sykes (Hampton alumna) and Regina Hall's ribald jokes, to Beyonce (Fisk legacy) and Meghan Thee Stallion's (Texas Southern alumna) singing, the look and feel of the entire event was quite different from just six years ago, when backlash from the lack of diversity in Oscar nominations and awards led to the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag that placed the Academy's long history of racial exclusion on front street.
And while I will touch on that history more below, again, I send a shout out to Brother Packer for what was a well run, diverse, and entertaining affair last night!
“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering…” Master Yoda, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
Now, on to what will be discussed in homes, offices, and on social media for the rest of our lives—the slap heard 'round the world—one dished out by newly minted Academy Award winner Will Smith, to the left cheek of legendary comedian Chris Rock.
*** I must state from the outset that Chris Rock, while a comedic genius, should have left the G.I. Jane joke dangling in his mind and not spewing from his mouth. For those unfamiliar, G.I. Jane was a 1997 movie starring Demi Moore as an Army recruit that shaves her head during training.
Demi Moore as G.I. Jane circa ‘97
Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith's wife, has been vocal for years that she suffers from alopecia areata, a condition that causes hair loss and painful scabs for those so diagnosed.
Will and Jada Pinkett Smith last night before the Oscars; Jada has gone on record about her hair loss journey over the past few years.
It is also important to note that Chris Rock spent several minutes cracking jokes on Will and Jada when he hosted the Oscars six years ago after the Smiths boycotted the event due to concerns that Black films were not being given proper respect by the Academy. Allegedly, there is still some bad blood stemming from Rock’s 2016 public disses of the Smiths.
The “what” now established, if you know me personally, or have read my writings for some time, then you know that I spent the bulk of my childhood growing up in an all-Black neighborhood and attending a 97% Black elementary, middle, and high school in Tallahassee, Florida. In my neighborhood and school, we all learned really early on how to crack jokes, play the dozens, and poke fun at folks’ clothes, shoes, hair, and even their mommas and daddies on occasion. Most of it was done in the spirit of pure comedic humor, and usually the words rolled right off of our backs.
But years later, I remember that there was a code to cracking jokes, and that when the joking went way too left and mean spirited by hitting below the belt, that the "joker" would get checked by the surrounding crowd—sometimes even to the point of fisticuffs. For example, if a classmate, let's call him Johnny, shared that his momma was laid off from her job and that his family was struggling financially, any jokester who would dare say something like "Johnny, that's why your mammy lost her job and y'all are broke" would get checked immediately by any and everyone within earshot —because that was taking it too far in our cracking code of conduct.
Now, whether Rock knew that Jada Pinkett Smith has alopecia or not surely is up for speculation, but I further remind this morning about another unwritten part of our childhood code— that the boys rarely cracked jokes on girls. Yes, we often cracked jokes about girls and women among ourselves, but few cracked jokes directly at the expense of one of our girl friends. Once more, when the rest of us found out that some dude broke this code and made one of our girl friends cry, that dude often got publicly ridiculed or swung on, depending on the day.
Such is why when I kept reading "Rock is a comedian" over and again last night on social media, while true, I still believe, just as my childhood self did, that all jokes ain't funny; I further believe that no comedian should crack jokes about a person's physical characteristics that are impacted by a serious health issue.
***Will Smith has been the subject of jokes and memes ever since he and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith shared way more information than most of us needed to know about their sexual lives and extra-marital "entanglements" last year.
The “entanglement” Red Table Talk between Will and Jada
So, when I saw Smith walk on stage, only moments after initially laughing at Rock's G.I. Jane joke, what was clear to me was that Will the husband, not Will the entertainer, looked at the frustrations in his wife's eyes, went on stage, and slapped Rock on the very night that he would soon attain the rare title of “Academy Award winner."
The aftermath debate is whether Smith was right to defend his wife's honor? Yes! Yes, in that it is THE primary role of a man to defend the ladies in his family, period—full stop!
But I must add that there's a time and place for everything under the sun and upon deeper thought, I really wish that Will had simply stood and screamed what he eventually did scream post-slap, which was "KEEP MY WIFE'S NAME OUT YOUR F*CKING MOUTH." Had Will chosen that route, Rock could have quickly surmised "uh-oh, Jada's mad, The Fresh Prince in here cussin’, and maybe I shouldn't go there." Sure, that would have been disruptive, too, but not as disruptive as Will slapping the taste from Rock's mouth and having his own historic moment at a historically Black focused Academy Award ceremony forever welded to that moment in time.
Will shouting at Rock after the slap heard 'round the world’
***What is also regrettable to me was that on a night when Will Smith was poised to earn a Best Actor nod...for a Black produced film...featuring a stellar predominantly Black cast…that the focus shifted from the art of King Richard and the role that Richard Williams, a strong Black man, played in raising tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, to the fracas between Smith and Rock.
Will Smith and the real Richard Williams
Lest we forget that Smith, like he said in his Oscar acceptance speech, totally immersed himself into the Williams character and from what I've read, method actors, at times, struggle with coming out of character. Such sorta reminds me of the late Heath Ledger and how he never could shake his award winning portrayal of the deeply troubled Joker in The Dark Knight and, sadly, killed himself not long after the movie was a certified hit.
Heath Ledger as Joker—RIP
It doesn't take a board certified psychiatrist to observe that Will Smith is struggling with a great many things; it is my sincere hope that Will seeks help from a certified psychiatric therapist so that he can exorcise whatever demons are dwelling deep within his soul.
***So, I saw quite a few comments last night along the lines of “Negroes done made the Oscars into the Source Awards," or, "I thought this was the Oscars not the BET Awards,” or, "them white folks ain't never gon' invite us back to the Oscars" and whatnot.
While humorous, albeit somewhat demeaning the value of awards shows by us for us, I'm here to remind that the Oscars haven't ever really given much concern about Black people, Black art, Black artists, or Black history!
Consider the fact that in its 94 year history, there has never been a Black director to win Best Director! There has only been one Black centered movie to win Best Picture (Moonlight-2016)! Smith is now just the fifth Black man to win Best Actor, joining the late Sidney Poitier (Lillies of the Field), Denzel Washington (Training Day), Jamie Foxx (Ray), and Forrest Whitaker (Last King of Scotland) as winners. There's only been one Black woman, Halle Berry, to win Best Actress (Monster's Ball).
Indeed, just think that about all of the iconic Black actors, like Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, and Cicely Tyson, who were passed over; think about all of the Black directors, like John Singleton, Spike Lee, and the Hughes brothers, who were passed over; think of iconic Black centered films like Malcolm X, The Color Purple, and Menace II Society—all passed over by an white centric Academy that could not care less about optics or Black respectability mores—and what those pass overs really tell about how the Academy really thinks and feels about Black art.
Those historic slights are why I shook my head at folks who are more concerned about "Black folks not getting invited back," especially since the invitations have been few and far between for nearly a century anyway!
And I'm sorry, but I wasn't raised in a way that places what folks from outside of our community think in a more prominent place than considering how last night's unfortunate events could lead to a very important conversation about how Black men and women interact with each other in the modern era.
***On that last point, Will Smith is subject now to a "damned if he did, damned if he didn't" treatment from many social media posters.
Had Smith sat there and said or done nothing after his wife was clearly not amused by Rock's "joke," then he would have been called a "punk" and worse. Today, Smith is still being called a "punk" and worse for walking on stage and slapping Rock and then cursing him out back at his seat.
Smith, in this instance, simply can't win among some posters; how deeply Will cares about public sentiment will determine whether additional public apologies are extended to Chris Rock in the days ahead—or not.
Actress Lupita Nyongo looks on in astonishment after Will Smith took his seat and continued raising Hell with Chris Rock…
But I think that what troubles me the most is that some of the Smith detractors believe that because Will and Jada have had a rocky year, and because Jada's affair was placed on front street, that perhaps she was not worthy of any sort of defense? Some of the comments that I read last night about Jada are not fit to print, but it's clear that some posters see no value in her for having an affair that embarrassed Will publicly, which is patently offensive and wrong.
You see, anyone that's ever been in a relationship can attest that there are good days, bad days, and ugly days, and since it's clear that Will and Jada have chosen to remain a couple, honor dictates that Will defends Jada's honor no matter how turbulent their past year has been in the public square—or how dishonorable the viewing public may believe their past to be.
And while I wish that Smith's defending could have happened in a non-violent way or, if he felt compelled to scrap, then off camera after the show, it does not mean that Will deserves to be publicly pilloried for defending his wife—or that Rock was the innocent victim in this instance (Note: provocation is a tried and true common law defense to battery should a case ever make its way into court).
What say you? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below! And have a great Monday!