Oscars 2022: Many Forgettable Dresses, One Memorable Moment

Gowns failed to impress after Will Smith seemingly pulled off a slap-first version of Kanye West at the 2009 VMAs

Will Smith took to the stage to slap Chris Rock for joking about wife Jada Pinkett-Smith. Screen grab: YouTube

Warning: this post contains language that some readers may find objectionable

“Love will make you do crazy things,” said Will Smith in his acceptance speech for the Best Actor award. And crazy it was when the King Richard lead earlier slapped Chris Rock on stage after Jada Pickett-Smith was teased by the comedian. Mr Rock had jabbed at her by comparing her to G.I. Jane, the eponym in the 1997 Ridley Scott film in which Demi Moore plays the soldier-character with a shaved head. “Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it,” Mr Rock teased. Ms Pickett-Smith’s barely discernible hair is the result of alopecia, an autoimmune condition, where the body attacks the cells of hair follicles, causing hair loss. At first, Mr Smith seemed to be laughing, but then his wife, decked in a Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier Couture gown, showed she disapproved the joke by rolling her eyes. The camera returned to Mr Rock and the next thing we saw was the actor marching up the stage and quickly smacking the presenter. It did not look scripted. Immediately, social media went berserk! “What just happened?” became the question of the hour.

But the on-stage slap was not enough. After swaggering back to his seat, Mr Smith shouted, “keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!” Twice! (The telecast on channel 5 this morning was not censored.) The Academy Awards have its fair share of distasteful jokes, and nominated actors—and their companions—have always been free for all who host (should Jesse Plemmons have lunged at Amy Schumer for calling his wife Kirsten Dunst a “seat filler” and getting her to vacate her chair?). But is a bad gag good reason to attack the joker? At the risk of pointing to the unmentionable “angry Black man”, this was not the first time a Black ‘bro’ took to the stage to express deep unhappiness. Back in the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), Kanye West leapt on stage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance of the Best Female Video award and said, “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!” Notice the repeat. Only now, Mr Smith had not confronted a White woman or a White man. He laid his hand on a Black guy, which could be “settled”, just as P Diddy said, when he appeared after Mr Rock: “Will and Chris, we’re gonna solve that like family…” On their official Twitter account, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences posted: “The Academy does not condone violence of any form.” And quickly re-focused on the aim of the show: “Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.”

Will Smith, in Dolce & Gabbana and wife Jada Pinkett-Smith in Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier Couture gown. Photo WireImage

After the manly outburst, the show moved into surreal territory. While a (mere) heckler would likely be shown the door, Will Smith was allowed to stay and watch the show, and laugh, and go back up the same stage to receive the award for Best Actor, his first. He was met with a standing ovation (Prada-clad Lupita Nyong’o, who sat behind him and was at first shocked by the latter’s open-hand action, stood up to applaud excitedly)! Tearing (or acting?), he said sorry to practically everyone except the guy he smacked. “I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment and I’m not crying for winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me. It’s about being able to shine a light on all of the people… Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father…” While he was crying, social media was calling out the slap for a joke as reactive and excessive. And, what if he didn’t win?! This was, however, not the first time Chris Rock targeted Jada Pinkett-Smith. During the 2016 presentation, he joked about her boycotting the award show due to what she saw as lack of diversity. “Jada’s gonna boycott the Oscars?” he joked, “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited!”. But the current “attack”, some also said, “was low”. Very quickly, #UgliestOscarsMoment_Ever was trending.

Earlier, on the red carpet, the media described the Smiths to have had “wow(ed) the red carpet”—he in a fussy black three-piece suit (and a tie!) by Dolce & Gabbana and she in a green Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier Couture gown with a ponderous-looking train. Their comeliness gave no clue that something a lot less attractive would take place soon. But, the red carpet this year did seem like a foretaste of the lacklustre proceedings of a tightly-edited show, up to the slap. The looks easily fell into twos: conservative or sexy, pink or green, easy or trying. Those who opted for a more ‘conventional’, symmetrical choice brought back chic based on a definition we thought was lost. Those who took their style cues from Saweetie looked as slutty. Chloe Bailey’s LVDF dress (by the LA-based Austrian designer Lukas van der Fecht), for example, had a slit up her left leg that went straight to below her breast!

The Better Dressed

Clockwise from top left: Zoe Kravitz in Saint Laurent, Uma Thurman in Bottega Veneta, Cynthia Erivo in Louis Vuitton, Zendaya in Valentino, Timothée Chalamet in Louis Vuitton, Kodi Smit-McPhee in Bottega Veneta. Photos: Getty Images

The Worst Dressed

Clockwise from top left: Megan Thee Stallion in Gaurav Gupta, Penélope Cruz in Chanel, H.E.R. in Carolina Herrera, Kristen Stewart in Chanel, Maggie Gyllenhaal in Schiaparelli, Halle Bailey in Roberto Cavalli. Photos: Getty Images

In the camp of the better-dressed, there was a nod to a specific past: the shirt and skirt ensemble not normally associated with the Oscars red carpet, except for Sharon Stone’s Gap and Vera Wang respectively in 1998. Uma Thurman wore a nicely loose white shirt with a barely flared black skirt, both by Bottega Veneta. The slickest look of the night seemingly channeled her 1994 Pulp Fiction character Mia Wallace. Zendaya, who has embraced this red carpet season in more avant-garde looks, such as those by Rick Owens and Loewe, has opted, just like Ms Thurman, for a shirt (and sparkly and impeccably fitted skirt with a train), only hers was cropped and came with curved shirttails. Such simplicity finally negates the outdated belief that princess dresses stand out more on the red carpet and augment the wearer’s femininity. But, perhaps more memorable would be Timothée Chalamet, who, quite the opposite, went shirtless under his Louis Vuitton cropped tuxedo jacket—not from anything by the late Virgil Abloh, but by Nicolas Ghesquière for the women’s collection!

Those who tried harder just appeared to have, perhaps as evidence that they did experience the Oscars ritual of getting dolled/tarted up. This was, after all, the first mask-free Oscars since the start of the pandemic. Megan Thee Stallion, rather new to the show, looked like she fell into a craft class teaching the making of fabric flowers. Penélope Cruz, no newbie, was dressed by Chanel to look like a woman who went back to high school to be a belated prom queen. Maggie Gyllenhaal, who normally looks pleasing if not smashing, appeared to have worn a chest of drawers, or were the drawer knobs on the Schiaparelli dress unnecessarily evocative of furniture? And then Kristen Stewart appeared in something that could have come from that chest: shorts! Lady Gaga, expected to turn up in a showstopper of a gown, did not walk on the red carpet at all. When she emerged on stage (with Lisa Minnelli in a wheelchair), she was not stealing any scene, at least not in a curiously dated look of a shinny tux by Ralph Lauren. Without a nomination, did the house of Gucci abandon her? Next year, we probably won’t remember her tuxedo, but we would recall those worn by the two guys’, who let this troubled world be distracted from war and pandemic with the Oscars’ first on-stage, man-to-man slap.

Note: Mediacorp censored the expletive in the repeat telecast of the show this evening

Update (28 March 2022, 11pm): The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a statement: “The academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show. We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law.” Earlier , it was reported that Chris Rock would not be filing charges

Update (29 March 2022, 9.30am): Twenty four hours after The Slap, Will Smith posted an apology on Instagram, saying, “I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be”

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