In the immediate aftermath of the 2022 Oscar slam that rocked the world, early internet conversations worked tirelessly to pin the blame. Every second of the clip was dissected and every scenario considered. Some argued that Will Smith’s actions were justified, that he was just trying to defend Jada Pinkett Smith against Chris Rock’s tasteless joke about her alopecia. Others believed that in the name of comedy, Rock had every right to say what he did for a punchline. Now, a year later, and Rock has redirected the conversation to point fingers at Pinkett Smith, claiming “she started it”.
Over the weekend, Rock hosted Netflix’s first-ever live stand-up set, Selective outrage, where he jokingly questioned Meghan Markle’s “racism claims” against the royal family, gushed over Beyoncé – “the nicest morf***er” – and, of course, directly addressed being “beaten by Suge Smith”. But when it came time for him to talk about the latter, Rock took the time to childishly blame Pinkett Smith for the incident.
“Everybody knows that. Yes. It happened. I got beat like a year ago at the goddamn Oscars by this grandma,” he admitted. He then went on to share undisclosed details about a time he says Pinkett Smith tried to persuade him to stop hosting the Oscars in 2016. According to Rock, she was upset by the Academy’s snub of Smith’s starring role in the sports drama Concussion. “She said that a grown man should quit his job because her husband was not nominated for Concussion. And then this n**** gives me a massive concussion,” Rock recalled.
At the time, Jada Pinkett Smith and a number of Hollywood stars boycotted the 2016 ceremony due to the lack of diversity among this year’s nominees. This led to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. However, Rock ignored Jada’s request and continued to host the awards show. While covering the event, Rock addressed the boycott, saying: “Sure boycotting the Oscars is like boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”
Six years later, Rock again took aim at Pinkett Smith, this time referencing her bald appearance due to alopecia, which he later insisted he had no prior knowledge of. “Sure, I love you GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see it,” laughed the comedian. Soon after, Will Smith went on stage and slapped Rock across the face.
Reflecting on the altercation, Rock wrongly assessed, “Nobody’s bothering her. She starts it; I’ll finish it.”
The whole situation is far more nuanced than simply saying that Smith is guilty and that Rock is innocent. This was an offensive comment, needlessly escalated by violence, clearly surrounded by a range of history and context. But bringing Pinkett Smith deeper into this mess and placing her at the heart of it is just plain lazy. Almost as lazy as making fun of someone’s appearance for the sake of comedy. I am of the belief that comedy is an art form meant to bring joy and make people laugh, not to tear others down. I don’t care if Rock wasn’t aware of Pinkett Smith’s alopecia beforehand; he had about as much right to make fun of a black woman’s lack of hair as Smith had to go up and punch Rock in the face.
A year later, claims that his JI Jane the remark was meant to shut down a so-called feud she “started” years ago is not the terse comeback he might have intended. I’m sorry to break it to you, Chris Rock, but I’d argue that you didn’t “finish it”, Will Smith finished it for you.