Thin Skin To Thick Skin

In a history-making Oscars night moment, Will Smith went from won’t take it to won’t budge

As it turned out, Will Smith was asked to leave the Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre after slapping Chris Rock. But he was adamant about staying put. According to the latest statement from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that was reported by the press, “Mr Smith was asked to leave the ceremony and refused”. It is not certain if it was a request or a demand. Or why Mr Smith was allowed to deny either. The Academy added that they “could have handled the situation differently”. How so, they did not say. But they did concede that “Mr. Smith’s actions at the 94th Oscars were a deeply shocking, traumatic event to witness in-person and on television”. That it was unacceptable was not mentioned. But in a letter addressed to its members, as report by Variety, the Academy’s president and CEO, David Rubin and Dawn Hudson respectively, wrote, “To be clear, we condemn Mr. Smith’s actions that transpired Sunday night.”

Will Smith’s refusal to leave allowed him to bask in the standing ovation when he went to receive his Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. In fact, he took to the stage twice. The first, prematurely, to strike Chris Rock. And the second, triumphantly, to be the fifth Black actor to win the award, for the first time. It is possible that Mr Smith declined to submit to the Academy’s toothless punitive action then because he was confident he would win. The 94th Academy Awards was the “most diverse” presentation, produced by an “all-Black” team (or “mostly black”, depending on which news service you subscribe to). They had to give it to him. Denzel Washington, the other Black nominee already won one Oscar. It was Will Smith’s turn—the actor was probably convinced. He was not ready for a win in absentia.

And his insistence paid off. What was truly amazing to us was that Mr Smith was first a thin-skinned husband when it came to an unfunny joke about his wife, but quickly became a thick-skinned star, certain that he would be bestowed Hollywood’s highest accolade, even when his presence was not desired in the theatre. The witnessed aggressor seemingly accorded impunity. Sure, the Academy later said they would investigate and Mr Smith has issued, via social media, an apology to Mr Rock (so did the Academy. Every presenter, without doubt, deserves a safe space on stage), but that Slap is unfortunately an affront to decency and humanity. And the world saw it. And the Internet has it secured deep in its bowels, waiting to cough it out by the stroke of a search entry. To forget it would be hard, very hard.

Update (31 March 2022, 9.30pm): Who is right? According to TMZ, who spoke to “sources with direct knowledge who were present”, Will Smith was not asked to leave the scene of the Slap. Apparently, “Academy officials were backstage with Will’s reps and there were heated conversations about what had gone down.” No consensus was reached as those officials were split in what was the right thing to do. Oscars producer Will Packer apparently told Mr Smith that “he could stay”. And the actor did

Illustration: Just So

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