Will Smith’s Slap Heard Round the Academy

Chris Rock and Will Smith
Myung Chun /LAT via Getty
Matthew Belloni
March 28, 2022

From my vantage point—in Row F, seat 58, on the left side of the Mezzanine, in the Dolby Theater, at what would soon become the most infamous Oscars of all time—there was no question. The slap was loud. Will Smith’s face was seething. Chris Rock, one of our most polished comedians, seemed genuinely frazzled. This was no bit.

Then the F-bombs flew. One of the most heavily managed, media-savvy movie stars of all time, was suddenly rage-screaming, off-mic but 100 percent clear, even up in my cheap seat: “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.” Twice, with even more fury the second time. Total silence in the crowd. No one could believe what was happening. In my row, at least, there were a couple mouths agape. In the packed Green Room backstage, I’m told by an eyewitness, Serena Williams laughed nervously at the spectacle, while Venus Williams immediately grasped the severity of the situation. Others, like Jake Gyllenhaal and Kevin Costner, just appeared shocked. 

At this point, I don’t need to further rehash what happened, and my Puck colleague Baratunde Thurston published a good analysis of Smith’s behavior, especially as it relates to his upbringing and his relationship with Jada Pinkett Smith. I wasn’t aware of Jada’s medical condition, and I’m told neither was Rock. Suffice it to say, Smith first laughed and then didn’t laugh at the joke, he took a swing, and the Academy and Oscars producer Will Packer…actually, they did nothing. Smith just sat there, attended to by longtime publicist Meredith O’Sullivan Wasson and friends Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry, while the show chugged along and no one in the room paid much attention. Anyone even slightly less famous—say, Javier Bardem or Jesse Plemons, both of whom were seated with their celebrity wives—would have been hauled out of there at the first commercial break, right? So why wasn’t Smith?