Our daily Cultural Advent Calendar enters its final stretch with our 2022 ups and downs. Today: The infamous slapstick that hurt Will Smith’s reputation in Hollywood
Remember where you were when you first watched Will Smith slap Chris Rock at the Oscars?
I certainly do.
I was traveling to Rome with some friends and had just woken up in my cheap hostel. I grabbed my phone for mindless scrolling through social media and instantly there it was.
At first I was convinced it was fake. There’s no way Will Smith could act this violent, on live TV, moments before winning his first ever Oscar. As the friends I shared the hostel dorm with also started waking up, we watched the moment over and over again, finding every possible angle, and finally came to the conclusion that it couldn’t be real.
“His hand just brushed against it. Actors, especially action actors like Will Smith, know how to throw a punch,” said one of my friends, who is studying theater acting.
But as it turns out, it was very real.
The incident shocked the entire world and sparked multiple conversations about race, violence, comedy and masculinity.
And in times of chaos you can always rely on one thing: memes.
Following the infamous slapstick, Smith was shunned by much of the film industry and banned from the Academy Awards for a decade.
After a few months of silence he finally apologized to Rock and the comedian’s family in a nearly six minute YouTube video.
“Chris, I apologize to you. My behavior has been unacceptable and I’m here whenever you’re ready to talk,” Smith said.
More recently, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star made his first appearance on a talk show since the incident and described his actions as having “a rage that had been bottled up for a long time”.
“He was a lot of things. He was the little boy who watched his father beat his mother. All of that just boiled over in that moment,” the actor told The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
But Smith wasn’t there just to clear things up, but also to promote his new film about the slavery era Emancipation, which tells the story of Peter, a slave who tries to escape from a plantation in Louisiana.
Inevitably the film, which was shot months before the Oscars incident, has been interpreted as a transparent attempt to revive Smith’s career and undo the bruise the slap left on his reputation.
But Smith hopes audiences will see beyond his actions and recognize the hard work and dedication of the film’s production team.
“I hope their work is honored and their work is not tainted because of a horrible decision on my part,” he told Trevor Noah.
As for the future, the actor reportedly has a number of projects in the works, but whether or not he can revive his career remains a hot topic in Hollywood. And whether or not it’s about forgiveness and forgetfulness, or whether his reputation is tarnished beyond repair, this unexpected outburst has been a major cultural talking point this year, for better or for worse.