Will Smith Slapped Us Awake at the 94th Oscars

Movies, Reviews, TV

Will Smith aside, the 94th Annual Oscars was all about letting your hands do the talking. CODA, a film about a hearing child of deaf adults (or CODA), took home three awards including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor, a first win for any deaf actor in the nearly 100 year history of the Oscars. Troy Kotsur’s acceptance speech had tears welling up in my eyes, and I am so happy for him and the deaf community he represents. If Ted Lasso wasn’t enough to get you to subscribe to Apple TV+, then maybe a best picture winner will.

Admittedly, I am burying the lede, but I want to make sure to celebrate some of the best moments of the night outside of the moment, you know, the one where Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on live television. 

Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer and Regina Hall were tasked with hosting for the evening, and I think they did a pretty decent job. However, I am wondering if we saw a lot less of them towards the end of the program because the show’s executives wanted to pretend that Will Smith didn’t casually walk on to the stage, slap Chris Rock in the face, sit back down, and cuss him out twice before pivoting back to the usual run of show. I don’t think it would have helped ease any tensions, but for my personal enjoyment, I wish we could have had Wanda Sykes come back out for an extended period of  time later in the program.

I refuse to have a hot take about the slap. Do we agree it was a slap? It seems like it. I’m somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between Judd Apatow’s “He could have KILLED HIM!” and he was just defending his wife’s honor. If this had happened just out in the world and not on live television it probably wouldn’t garner much mention. It was only one slap, and the joke was neither great nor any kind of uncrossable line. Also, I am dying to hear what jokes Chris Rock, wisely, kept to himself when he said, “oh, I could… ok,” and kept it moving to the presentation for best documentary feature. 

Questlove took home that particular award for Summer of Soul, and he gave a beautiful emotional acceptance speech. The speech was so good I almost forgot to check twitter to see if the slap was staged. I didn’t, but I almost did. Thanks to the uncensored audio from viewers in Japan and Australia, I’m fairly certain that was the real real. 

Dune gobbled up a bunch of its nominations as I had hoped it would. Including Hans Zimmer’s second win which I find hard to be true considering his previous breadth of work, but alas is. He was not in attendance and accepted his award in a bathrobe in Amsterdam wisely mimicking Sir Anthony Hopkins 2021 absentia.

Rami Malek briefly made me forget about Will Smith and Chris Rock by staring at me through my TV screen in a way that made me feel uncomfortable before he introduced Oscar winners Billie Eilish and Phineas’ performance of No Time to Die from the eponymous James bond entry.

Amy Schumer did come back out to fulfill some hosting duties and made a quick joke about the tension in the room that brought the memory of “slapgate” back. She then quickly pivoted to a joke explaining seat fillers and removed Kirsten Dunst from her seat to sit next to Dunst’s husband Jesse Plemons, to which I immediately had the thought, is Plemons going to slap her now for disrespecting his wife?! My mind kept returning to its natural resting state of remembering the slap that happened.

The show did its best to pretend that nothing happened, but then it no longer could. For reasons unknown other than, “hey, Pulp Fiction was cool,” Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, and John Travolta appeared on stage with the briefcase MacGuffin from the film. The gag of the bit being that the unknown contents of the briefcase were actually the best actor winner. Oh boy, here we go. Will Smith won best actor, as all of us watching for the drama were desperately hoping for. 

The acceptance speech was semi-apologetic, but also emotionally defensive. He is clearly going through some issues. While I do feel genuinely bad for him, it’s only the amount of bad I can feel for someone who is so rich, famous, and powerful he gets to walk up on stage and slap someone and then gets to win an award while everyone pretends everything is fine. On the empathy scale I feel bad for him like I feel bad for a normal person who stubbed their toe.

Back in pretend-land, Anthony Hopkins presented the award for best actress to Jessica Chastain, who my wife and I sat a table over from on our anniversary last year, which is only to say it’s nice to see your friends succeed. And finally, Lady Gaga escorted Liza Mineli in presenting the award for best picture, as mentioned before to CODA, and you could feel the deep warmth and respect Gaga has for her. 

I can’t overstate how purely happy it made me to see the team for CODA win so many prestigious awards. It was truly heartwarming and heartbreaking to see the joy in their faces and responses to their wins. It was so pure and emotional that it almost, almost, made me forget that Will Smith walked on stage and slapped Chris Rock.

Live TV is unpredictable as ever, and, thanks to Will Smith and Chris Rock, this year’s Oscars managed to far exceed last year’s wet fart ending. Long live award ceremonies.

P.S. I could have done without the fan vote moments, even though The Flash entering the speed force was cool.