It seems the lasting image of the 94th Academy Awards will inevitably be Will Smith taking to the stage to slap Chris Rock in retribution for a joke about his wife.
Whilst presenting the award for best Documentary Rock quipped, “Jada, I love you. GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see you,” in an apparent reference to Smith’s wife’s alopecia.
Amidst reports that the Academy may take away Smith’s Best Actor Oscar, Smith issued an apology much stronger than that he had delivered in his acceptance speech which notably omitted Rock.
“Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive," said Smith in a statement issued by his publicist and posted on Instagram.
“My behaviour at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally.
“I would like to publicly apologise 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. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”
The 53-year-old actor also apologised to fellow attendees, viewers and the Williams family.
Smith’s win was awarded for his role as Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, in the biopic, ‘King Richard.’
“I am a work in progress,” Smith added
Criticism from the red carpet
Whilst Smith himself now seems to regret his violent outburst, reactions online and on the red carpet were mixed to say the least.
‘West Side Story’ star Paloma Garcia-Lee, who was at the Oscars supporting her co-star Ariana DeBose, said, "I just honestly thought it took away from the joy of my friend winning, and I just bought my mind right back to that.”
As the first queer woman of colour to win Best Supporting Actress, DeBose was a historic win of the evening,
“I was just like, wow, there's so much to be celebrated tonight and so much joy in this.
“Not to say I paid no mind, but I just was like, I don't need this. My friend won an Oscar,” the actress continued.
Actor Kevin Costner also disapproved of Smith’s outburst, although he did observe that Rock's joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith was uncalled-for.
“Listen, nobody should be doing that. OK. So we shouldn't even move to the second moment. Nobody should be doing the first," the ‘Dances with Wolves’ star said.
Winner of best animated short film, Alberto Mieglo said he initially believed the moment to be choreographed but agreed with Garcia-Lee that the incident ‘eclipsed’ the evening.
“I'm sure that they both feel…very bad and nervous about it. And it probably eclipsed the whole show. So let's -- let's try to forget about it," the filmmaker said.
Comedians aghast at Smith’s slap
In comedy quarters many standups and writers expressed dismay at Smith’s actions.
“Let me tell you something, it’s a very bad practice to walk up on stage and physically assault a comedian,” wrote standup comedian Kathy Griffin on Twitter.
Griffin was the subject of numerous threats to her life in 2017 after she posed with a mask of Donald Trump made up to look like the president’s severed head. The comedian claimed at the time she had to cancel gigs because of safety concerns from venues.
“Now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theatres,” she added.
Comic actor George Takei also criticised Smith for losing his cool when so many people were watching.
“Many people, especially kids, look up to actors,” the ‘Star Trek’ actor said.
“Because of that, we have an obligation to try to be good role models. With celebrity comes responsibility.”
Comedy writer Judd Apatow was also highly critical of Smith, railing in a now-deleted Twitter post he described the attack as, “out of control rage and violence.”
Noting that celebrities have been the target of jokes for decades, Apatow said: "They’ve heard a million jokes about them in the last three decades. They are not freshmen in the world of Hollywood and comedy. He lost his mind.”
Meanwhile, voice actor Mark Hamill called the incident the ugliest Oscar moment ever, tweeting “Stand-up comics are very adept at handling hecklers. Violent physical assault... not so much."
A problem with Hollywood
Reflecting on the event, comedian and actor Jim Carrey has harshly critiqued Smith's actions and those of the audience.
“I was sickened by the standing ovation,” Carrey told CBS in response to Smith later receiving his best actor gong. “I felt like Hollywood is just spineless en masse.”
"It really felt like a clear indication that we're not the cool club anymore," he continued. "It cast a pall over everybody's shining moment last night."
Interviewing for his latest film, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Carrey continued his criticism.
"I'm just here to say that striking another human being is wrong."
"That initial terrible feeling that had elicited stuck with me for a day. I was saddened by it," Carrey said.
"Chris Rock is one of the sweetest, loveliest people I know," he added. "I hated to see him go through that."
Backing Smith’s corner
Other celebrities were more supportive and empathised with Smith, who in fact received cheers and applause from the Oscars crowd when he slapped Rock.
Golden Globe winner and GLAAD honouree Mj Rodriguez said she had sympathy for Smith.
”Sometimes when you’re speaking about somebody’s wife, you can’t really help that,” said the ‘Pose’ actress when she arrived at the Vanity Fair Oscar party.
“So that’s what I would say.”
Meanwhile campaigner and star of ‘The Good Place,’ Jameela Jamil tweeted out a quote from Malcolm X quote about defending Black women in America.
In her tweet Jamil said, “Will Smith said ‘Not Today’. A man big enough to absolutely floor him, slapped him softly enough that Chris barely moved, because he made fun of his wife’s alopecia on a world stage.
“Don’t say #protectBlackwomen for two years and then only condemn Will here. Come on…”
Rapper and singer Nicki Minaj was one of the few to centre Pinkett-Smith’s experience in her response, saying, “Imagine what it must feel like to be losing your hair to the point where you have to shave it bald.”
Minaj, who attracted controversy earlier this year due to her vaccine-scepticism added, “You think that’s easy to deal with for anyone? You don’t think she’s cried about that many times?”