Why It’s Still #ProtectBlackWomen, Despite The Discourse Surrounding Will Smith And Chris Rock’s Kerfuffle [Opinion]
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Opinion

Why It’s Still #ProtectBlackWomen, Despite The Discourse Surrounding Will Smith And Chris Rock’s Kerfuffle [Opinion]

Will Smith won his very first Oscar out of his decades-long year career for his role in King Richard on Sunday. But that isn’t what’s making international news.

Instead, it’s the unexpected slap heard and seen around the world at the hands of the self-proclaimed “fresh prince.” As fellow actor and comedian Chris Rock presented an award, in typical fashion, he began to tell jokes, one of which was aimed at the I Am Legend star's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock compared Pinkett Smith’s stunning bald hair to her potentially starring in the sequel to G.I. Jane. 

Anyone familiar with the film is aware that its star, Demi Moore, rocked a shaved head in the role.

The joke fell flat for much of the audience, including Pinkett Smith, who seemed to be uncomfortable. While Moore’s head was shaved by choice for the role, Pinkett Smith has alopecia and she’s spoken about the medical condition publicly since 2018. Smith didn’t find it a laughing matter either and found his way to the stage, uninterrupted by any security on deck, and slapped Rock.

The control room was delayed on their pause button. There was no commercial break on ABC, instead, the live broadcast was put on slow motion for a few seconds. But an unedited clip from other broadcasters showed Smith walk casually back to his seat, cross his legs, and warn Rock to “keep my wife’s name out of your f****g mouth.” The audience sat still and many laughed initially, probably believing it was staged.

Of course, social media reacted and the views are split.

Some say Smith’s anger is misdirected, which we will get to later. While Smith chose violence, others felt that was an unfair punishment for a joke. On the other hand, there’s a whole community who are abiding by the old Negro spiritual of “run up, get done up.” And in Smith’s case, he sent a warning that his wife and family, is not to be played with. The greater conversation is whether or not Smith’s actions fall in line with the mantra of protecting Black women by any means necessary, which more often than not, society fails to do.

It’s complicated to say the least. Could Smith have reacted differently? Sure. But considering his family has been the subject of public scrutiny, social media memes and gifs, rumors, disrespect on all levels and everything in between since the start of his career, one would imagine that even the person who takes the high road on most occasions has a breaking point. And taking into account the last two years of the Smith family being publicly ridiculed from not just the general public, but also their peers, Smith felt it was time to bring out the West Philly in him.

Since Pinkett Smith confirmed her entanglement with R&B singer August Alsina with Smith by her side on Red Table Talk, they’ve been mercilessly under attack. In a society built upon sexism and patriarchy, Pinkett Smith has been attacked for a brief fling during a period of admitted separation with the end game being divorce between her and Smith. Questions of why she’d “take advantage” of a younger man, the gasps of Smith taking her back, calling her motherhood into play and speculation surrounding their reported “open marriage” rose even more. 

Men have joked about Smith being foolish for standing by his wife, the one he took vows to love, honor, and protect against all things. Alsina was left unscathed and viewed as the victim, despite giving his consent and sharing intimate details out of anger and hurt for a woman he claimed to have loved to put it all in the song. Pinkett Smith took the fall and many did not come to her defense.

Outside of Red Table Talk, the couple hasn’t spoken about it. And just recently during the SAG Awards, red carpet host Laverne Cox made reference to Pinkett Smith’s entanglement during an interview. They laughed it off. But not this time around.

One has to wonder when comedy draws the line between funny and offensive.

Pinkett Smith has cried over dealing with her hair loss. It took her years after her diagnosis to even accept it.

On top of that, being able to bounce back from the embarrassment of the world knowing about a mishap in one’s marriage that they’d more than likely would rather forget is not easy. They’ve done it all with a smile. But alas, Smith made it known he’d whoop some ass.

Iyanla Vanzant tweeted it best: “Beloved Will Smith has set a whole new standard for what it means to “protect” and honor your wife – – – Be Mindful!” Whether Smith should have gotten physical is debatable, but standing up for his woman is not.

Far too often, Black women are the brunt of jokes and cruelty, but the first ones to come to the rescue of the world.

There’s nothing funny about a woman who has to come to terms with losing her hair in chunks in front of the world and sitting in an audience in an emerald green ball gown wearing diamonds and pearls doing her best to look and feel beautiful, only to be reminded of what she doesn’t have. No one knows the physical and emotional turmoil Pinkett has been through as a result of her condition. It’s only right for her man to save her at that moment.

Unlike many, Pinkett Smith has been the advocate of Black men and women, when she’s been put down daily and shamed for healing out loud. It should be noted that for years, she opted out of attending the same award ceremony that Rock took center stage to compare to G.I. Jane. The Emmy-winning talk show host didn’t attend the Academy Awards due to lack of diversity and inclusion in nominations and awards. Yet, she’s the first target of jonesing. We have to do better.

Whether Smith should have gotten physical is debatable. But standing up for his woman is not.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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