Two Sundays ago, Will Smith got up on the Oscar stage and slapped Chris Rock. Will went back to his front row seat as Chris said “Wow, Will Smith just snatched it from me. Wow, dude, that was a GI Zen joke … “ Will, now sitting, cried out “Keep my wife’s name out of your mouth” Twice I never denied how traumatic the moment was or how inappropriate it was. Will Smith was wrong, duration. But many people, especially many black women, have noticed that not everything is black-and-white, and there was subtlety in the conversation, especially because of Jada’s alopecia and especially Jada’s rock history. There was history, and it colored the event and many people acknowledged it. Some did not. Some people decided that what Will did was the worst thing that ever happened, the stage at the Dolby Theater was soaked in blood, no one would ever recover from a trauma after seeing someone slapping another person.
Today, academy officials are meeting to discuss what the will should be, even after he has repeatedly apologized and voluntarily resigned from the academy. There are several punishments on the table, obviously. Which brings me to the guest column of this Hollywood reporter from David Wellow, who actually attended the Oscars and witnessed that moment. He had a lot of thoughts about how slap became racist in Hollywood. Some highlights:
Attendance at the Oscars: My experiences at the Oscars over the last few years have been an unexpected drama and a constant intersection of public opinion, politics and caste. In 2015, I was in the front row seat at the start of # OscarsSoWhite, a film that had a hand in starting everything, starring Selema. Two years later, I was part of a viral meme after my reaction was caught on camera because La La Land was mistakenly mentioned as the winner of the best photo instead of the actual winner Moonlight.
Being a black man in the world: As a black man in the eyes of the public, you are constantly aware of the fact that your existence is political. You are constantly in a situation where either a stereotype is being used as an example to perpetuate or debunk. These stereotypes are associated with crime, civilization, education, sexual power, poverty, social responsibility, and more. I have to accept this even though it is tedious.
Slap: The moment I realized the nature of what had just happened on the Dolby Theater stage, I was faced with the same growing concern that all black people feel when the face that shines in the news after a crime is reported is a black one. . You are thinking to yourself, “What does this mean for us?” “What does this mean for me?” Shortly after the now-infamous Oscar ceremony, I went to an Oscar after-party and was immediately confronted with the fear I had. An elderly white gentleman, tasting his behavior, approached me and said, “He should have been dragged away.” You may agree with that feeling, but not what he said, the way he said it. I know that taste. I know that behavior, and it’s ugly at the root of all its coded messaging.
Pushback to Inclusive Academy Membership: From #OscarsSoWhite, there have been huge gains from academia and the entertainment industry. The then president of the academy, Cheryl Boon Isaacs, led the accusation of forcing the academy to improve its shamefully unequal ethnic and gender population, despite fierce internal opposition and pressure. This change clearly led to film and artisans who would traditionally neglect to celebrate in the intervening years. This example had a very welcome effect on the expansion of our industry. It would be foolish to assume that the incident between Will Smith and Chris Rock would not be pushed through the racial lens by some industry professionals. Some of them will be the same people who resisted the inclusion of Cheryl Boone Isaacs and her supporters in the academy and which led to a more diverse academy.
Hollywood’s Big Lie: This intersection of personal opinions, politics and race has been the reason why black artists have had to deal with Hollywood’s “big lie” for decades: black films and artists do not travel. Will Smith had a big hand in blowing up that lie. This is why we have traditionally been reared more for playing submissive and criminal roles than for those who are empowered and motivated. That’s why we still don’t have any black executives who have the autonomy to greenlight anything they create.
Fear of Vellore: My fear is that this unfortunate event, which affects all of us, will have a negative impact on the ongoing pressure for inclusion. There are some people who will work through an unconscious – or conscious – bias to make sure something like this never happens again. A bias that still controls a lot of decision-making in Hollywood. It would be unfortunate if a bid to prevent such an event from happening again became an excuse for ideas about inclusion and diversity. This will only confirm in the first place the impersonal nature of some of these commitments. This incident should not be a springboard for proxy arguments about race, honor and rights in Hollywood circles.
Well, I totally agree with that and it was interesting and weird to see racial dynamics in real time – it wasn’t a history lesson, it was people reacting excessively, or reacting with racial bias, in real time, it was exposed. And Oyelowo is absolutely right that there will be a greater response to the inclusion movement in Hollywood. Even before the slap, members of the old, white academy were worried about “new members” and how much had changed. A.
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