“This is a very beautiful night,” said Will Smith when he went up to receive the award for Best Actor at the last Oscar ceremony.
He had never held an Academy statuette in his hands. He had been nominated twice – for his roles in the films Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness – and he had come away empty-handed. So yes: she made sense that she was beautiful that night. But fifteen minutes earlier the actor had thought to get up from his chair to slap one of the presenters with all his might. Smith was once again the protagonist, although on this occasion the biggest scandal in the almost one hundred years of these awards.
The reasons for the aggression appeared in the headlines of the newspapers of practically the entire planet. Comedian Chris Rock cracked a rude joke onstage, comparing Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett, to the ’90s star. G.I. Jane (in which Demi Moore is a lieutenant with shaved hair). Pinkett looks the same lookbut for an alopecia problem that he has been talking about since 2018. So the joke couldn’t go down well. Neither her nor her husband. And it was after hearing it that Smith got up and without hesitation slapped him.
“Love leads you to do crazy things.” “I want to be an ambassador for this kind of care and concern.” These were some of the words with which the actor, through tears, tried to justify his reaction, while millions of viewers in the world They were still torn between believing that what they had seen had been real and that it was not a scene in the style of the protagonist of I’m legend.
What went through Smith’s head that led him to act the way he did that night?
It is not possible to lean for a single reason. But there are possible answers. In phrases like the ones he said – I defend my family, I did it for love – several specialists see the classic macho scheme on which many still base masculine identity. There is the woman as a weak being who needs a man by her side to represent her. “With emphasis on the fact that it is his wife, his property”, says anthropologist Myriam Jimeno, who was a researcher for several decades at the Center for Social Studies of the National University.
For her, this episode reveals two structural factors that are important to analyze culturally. On the one hand, the idea of man as a great protector that, despite the changes that have been running since the beginning of the 20th century, is still deeply rooted. And on the other hand, assuming that it is acceptable to respond to aggression with aggression. “It is true that both he and his wife received an offensive joke, but a thoughtful response to that anger may have been sought. The slapping action is unacceptable.”
“Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!” Smith yelled after he had delivered the blow. Not once, but twice. In case it wasn’t clear.
“What was experienced there was an expression of topical masculinity on both sides,” says lawyer and writer Elizabeth Castillo. For the comedian, because it is not funny to make fun of the physical characteristics of a person. And also for the actor, because you have to understand that there is no excuse to use violence. We cannot put ourselves in the primitive state of an eye for an eye.”
That is the devil that Denzel Washington spoke of: touching another human being’s emotional fragility without knowing the repercussions that
that’s going to have
The striking thing is that Smith’s action was accepted by viewers and even acting colleagues. Actress Tiffany Haddish gave her support with this message: “It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. It made me believe that there are still men who love and care about their women.”. Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who has also spoken out about her hair loss, wrote this tweet: “Thank you Will. Greetings to all the husbands who defend their wives with alopecia in the face of ignorance and daily insults. Pressley deleted the tweet shortly after, but it had already taken effect.
A survey by YouGov, the international data analysis firm, investigated the opinion of Americans the day after the slap. Was Will Smith’s reaction right or wrong? he asked among 1,319 people. The responses varied according to age: in those over 65, 72 percent considered that he was wrong, 15 saw it as adequate, and 13 were not sure; in people aged 18 to 34, the number who defined it as an incorrect reaction dropped to 46 percent and 27 responded that it looked fine. Which shows that among many young people there was an accolade to Smith and his attitude. Another detail that the survey showed is that, among women, the support for the actor was slightly higher than that of men.
The audience in the venue – or a good part of it, at least – gave him a standing ovation when he received the award. Given this panorama, Castillo asks himself a question: “Was it necessary to stand in front of millions and millions of spectators to hit another person? What remained in the minds of the children who saw it? We are talking about a character who has a large audience and who He showed the world, live and direct, that problems can be solved with blows”.
The ‘devil’ that Denzel Washington spoke of
In November last year Smith published his autobiography. he titled it Willsimply. In it he spoke candidly about dark moments in her life. Like the day she saw her father hit her mother until she passed out. The frustration of not having been able to defend her was engraved on him. She was 9 years old. The violence was repetitive at home, so much so that her mother made the decision to leave the family. Smith saw in that game the reason led him to have suicidal thoughts in his teens. On one occasion –the actor tells in his book–, when his father was in a wheelchair and sick with cancer, he thought of pushing him down the stairs to “avenge his mother”. Sure: he just thought about it.
Nothing justifies an act of violence. But everything has its root.
“If you look at their faces in the video, you notice that he initially laughs at the joke. The woman immediately rolls her eyes. And that’s when he reacts with what we call a narcissistic wound, which is characterized by uncontrolled, very deep anger, says psychoanalyst Lucía Restrepo. He felt hurt by his wife and the childhood memory of her. Is what I believe. There were other ways to protest, but at that moment this man snapped. It was a totally emotional thing.”
The episode lived that night in the Dolby Theater has many layers, according to Restrepo. Among them that of the comedian who, although he responded in a restrained way to the blow, was the one who aroused the reaction with his comment. “His thing was somewhat in bad taste and it hurt both of them in a very fragile aspect. Because wounds to the body are very painful for the human being. And alopecia has a high emotional component for a woman; more in black women for whom hair is a way of saying: that’s how we are”.
Jada Pinkett – actress, producer, businesswoman, who has been with Smith for twenty-three years – has spoken openly about her illness. She once said, “He was scary when he started. I was in the shower one day and my hand was full of hair.. My God, I’m bald.” Rock has been criticized for making fun of him for one more reason: he himself produced a documentary about the importance of hair in the identity of black women. He released it in 2009, under the title of Good Hair. It was clear, then, how much he could puncture with his words. “In your comment I see something that is still misogynistic and also racist, even coming from a black person.” says Castillo and points out how, in the midst of the slap scandal, the offense against Pinkett has remained silent: “In the end, no one heard the voice of the victim. She was reduced to a medieval duel of knights with the maiden on the balcony”.
Another layer in this episode is what these pandemic times have been able to generate in people. “There is a phenomenon of very strong external pressure Restrepo explains. It is widespread, massive. A permanent pressure that is demonstrated in many ways. He who knows how to ask for help, asks for it. The one who can. But how many are taking the daily hit and trying their best to deal with it.” Points can be added to this for being a character who carries the focus on him twenty-four hours a day.
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Everyone has a threshold at which they feel authorized to act aggressively, and that threshold depends on the structure and solidity of each person.
The level of anxiety that is being managed socially makes people much more on their guard. And this can lead to favoring action over reflection. There seems to be less and less time (or so it is perceived) to wait and think before acting. “You saw that recently, on the Coast, a man decided to pour gasoline on a teenager and set him on fire. Something much more serious than any slap. And another man, defending a neighbor, shot the aggressor. Everyone has a threshold at which they feel authorized to act aggressively, and that threshold depends a lot on the structure and solidity of each person”, says psychoanalyst Fabio Eslava.
It is something that must be seen individually, although its sum comes to produce a cultural climate that affects us all. “Today what we see is that everything is immediate, everything goes quickly next to the trial. Decide what is right, what is wrong –adds Eslava–. And let’s not forget, furthermore, that we are talking about people from the show business here. People whose functioning is very emotional and not necessarily reflective”.
Supposedly unattainable figures, omnipotent, but that can collapse like a sand castle. In this case, very deep emotional charges were brought into play. “That’s really the devil that Denzel Washington was talking about: touching another human being’s emotional fragility without knowing the repercussions that this is going to have”, says Restrepo in relation to the advice that Washington gave Smith a few minutes after the slap.
Washington approached him. And he told:
“At your best, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you.
Apologies, in time?
Will Smith apologized. To the public, to his colleagues and, a day after the attack, to Chris Rock himself. “Violence in all its forms is poisonous and destructive. I am ashamed. My actions do not reflect the man I want to be,” he said, and on Friday night tendered his resignation as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Rock – who has only said that he is still “processing what happened” – has refused to sue him and the organization has set April 18 as the date on which it will announce a possible sanction. It seems difficult that they decide to take away the award he received for his role in King Richard: A Winning Family. But anything can happen.
“Acknowledging the mistake and apologizing is essential,” says Jimeno. In human actions, the possibility of forgiveness or reparation is what corrects the wrong action. For Eslava it is natural that, after an act like this, comes some degree of guilt. “Hopefully that guilt is restorative, constructive, and not to get rid of possible lawsuits or to look good. It’s such an internal issue that we won’t be able to know.” There is so much in this episode that we won’t be able to know. It will remain, that is recorded in the history of Smith and in that of the most important film awards, the deep mark of the slap.
MARIA PAULINA ORTIZ
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Will Smith’s dark night at the Oscars: much more than a slap in the face