Will Smith could have handled the now infamous Chris Rock joke during the Oscars telecast better.
He could have confronted Rock in private, backstage. He and his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, could have walked out of the ceremony in protest. He could have chuckled politely, ignored Jada’s obvious displeasure, and accepted the affront to his family as collateral damage for his burgeoning life as an Oscar-winning celebrity.
Or he could have marched on stage during a live broadcast to smack the shit out of Chris Rock.
As we all know, he chose the latter. And public consensus, led by Twitter hashtags like #cancelWillSmith and #arrestWillSmith, is clear: you’re not supposed to like Will Smith right now.
Yet, when I saw that happening on Twitter, I felt conflicted. Because when Will was filmed in his seat yelling “Keep my wife’s name out [of] your fucking mouth,” I actually started to like him more.
Maybe it’s just the millennial kid in me who maintains a childhood affection for the Fresh Prince. I grew up watching reruns of goofy, Comic Actor Will Smith. I tried to like the cussword-free rap albums of Resurgent Rapper Will Smith before I realized how uncool it was for me to do that. And I came of age in movie theaters playing escapist classics like Independence Day and Men In Black, starring Action Star Will Smith.
But on Oscar night, my secret affection for the Big Willie Style album (please don’t tell anyone) gave way to a deeper, more emotional connection to aging, Oscar-contending, “keep my wife’s name out [of] your fucking mouth” yelling Will Smith.
He and I are the same, just on different stages.
I often imagine myself in that situation, but my stage is a big party, or a wedding, or a country music festival. Someone insults my wife to her face, and I must decide how to respond. Would that be a reason to go?
What if my wife suffered from some physical ailment that affected her appearance? Perhaps she was going bald (known as “alopecia”), an issue that Jada Pinkett-Smith is publicly dealing with in a toxic world where female actresses are expected to look a certain way which usually includes having hair. In a moment like that, would I be able to control my emotions? Would I shake hands with that asshole and chuckle, “Good one, man,” while my wife looks at me with eyes that say, “Aren’t you going to say something?”
Or would I feel the overwhelming urge to smack the shit out of that guy.
Will Smith couldn’t overcome that urge on a massive stage Sunday night. But to A-lister Will Smith, that “massive” stage, The Oscars, is just his stage. It’s Will Smith’s version of a buddy’s wedding or a family reunion. Chris Rock was the asshole friend you haven’t seen in five years who took his “good-natured” ribbing a step too far. And Jada was your wife, looking at you with eyes that said, “I’m a strong, independent woman… but I’d really appreciate it if you smacked the shit out of that guy.”
Will Smith chose action and aggression on Sunday night, and he’ll pay the price in the court of public opinion.
But he’s still welcome in my court. In this court, we will defend women and our families, we will own the consequences, and we will smack the shit out of people who target the weak and vulnerable for a cheap joke.
I think Will Smith just helped me find the fightin’ side of me.