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Will Smiths Violent Outburst Made the Oscars Impossible to Love

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Neilson Barnard/Getty

The vibes were actually good until the most famous man in the world assaulted a beloved comedian. How do we reconcile that?

Kevin Fallon

Senior Entertainment Reporter

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There was a time when we thought no one would ever care about the Oscars.

Ratings had done a beautiful swan dive into a tropical lake of irrelevance. People complained about how the movies they actually cared about (starts with Spider, ends with Man) werent nominated. The Academy and producers had made several decisions that angered longtime viewers of the show, like excising crucial categories because they didnt have famous people involved. A tear- jerking movie, the plot of which I cant recount because it makes me weep inconsolably when I doand yet was somehow dubbed an Oscar villainwon many awards.

But then the most famous man in the world got out of his seat, walked onto the stage, slapped a beloved comedian, and continued to shout at him from his chair.

Again, remember when we thought no one would care about the Oscars?

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Its a tragic thing, in multiple ways.

It doesnt matter that, for the first time, a streaming service (Apple TV+), won Best Picture at the Academy Awards for CODA, a seismic event in terms of how the industry thinks about how film is consumed. It doesnt matter that its not Netflix that broke the barrier, despite its rich investment in filmmakers, like Jane Campions presumed favorite, The Power of the Dog. It doesnt matter that it was possibly the most targeted and consequential night when it comes to Hollywood addressingand moreover, representingLGBT issues.

It was the biggest night in entertainment in my lifetime. Because of all of that. And also because Will Smith slapped Chris Rock and then won an Oscar.

The question is: Were the Oscars good or bad? After what happened, I dont know if you could possibly say one way or the other.

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What they forgot, in all of their controversial producing, was that you just cant produce good TV.

Chris Rock made a horrendous, unforgivable joke about Jada Pinkett Smith and then her husband, now-Academy Award winner Will, slapped him in the goddamn face.

I guess the Oscars were good?

I dont know how famous you have to be that, when a comedian makes a really bad joke (to just define our take: so terribly bad) about your wife, you ignore the many television cameras that are filming the most hallowed night of Hollywood television, interrupt a live broadcast by walking on stage, slap somebody, and then from your seat scream, Keep my wifes name out of your fucking mouth.

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There is, apparently, an exact level of famous you have to be to do that, and that is Will Smith-level famous.

Will Smith did something that the Oscars have reliably tried, but in their insecurity about ratings and buzz, very nearly thwarted itself from doing: creating a moment. It shouldnt seem like rocket science, but apparently it is: When you put the worlds most beautiful and famous people in a room together and just set up a camera, you capture the weirdest, most beautifully out-of-touch shit.

That can be a very positive thing. I dont love that Jessica Chastain tied her speech back to Tammy Faye Bakker, whose legacy is complicated. But I am grateful that she devoted so much of her time onstage to talking about the rights of women and LGBT people that are at stake. Only when you are that famous would you presume to have the megaphone for that. (Again, thank God she did!)

It can also be a horrible thing.

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Lets be clear: An assault happened. At first, every aunt, college roommate, and person I have ever met asked me if Will Smith getting angry at Chris Rock was a bit. While Im flattered that anyone thought I had inside information, I can say definitively, at this point, it was not.

Were so programmed to being programmed that none of us knew how to deal with it.

In that moment and in his speech, Will Smith revealed himself to be a very famous person rendered very human. I do not condone his assault, but I understand the ethos. (Imagine any of these words ever being used in relation to the Academy Awards before.)

But again, I am trying to imagine just how famous and privileged you must be to at the goddamn Academy Awards!get out of your seat, slap someone, sit back down and heckle, and then win the Oscar.

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Its not that its great TV. Its the kind of TV we still dont know how to process.

As mentioned before, there were substantial changes made to tonights ceremony in order to make it a show that anyone would care about, prior to the Will Smith of it all. The giant, taunting question was: How do you make people care about the Oscars who dont care about the Oscars? You would think thats a question a child would laugh at for being unanswerable. But the Academy braved it. They tried. Their response: Find Tony Hawk.

God bless the producers for making the unnecessary presenter moment of Hawk, Kelly Slater, and Shaun White as bad as pundits predicted it would be. And also, drag the producers for the concept. Of all humans, Hollywood or otherwise in the world, these were the three brought on to introduce a tribute to James Bond.

The ridiculous thing is that, besides all of that drama, the show was actually going well? Amy Schumers opening monologue killed. It also had the Ricky Gervais-esque, Hollywood-skewering energy that people didnt expect. (Who knew shed go so hard on Being the Ricardos?) And Regina Hall proved why Regina Hall should be everywhere, in everything, in everyones mind.

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There was so much desperation that, on any Will Smith Didnt Slap Chris Rock night, wed be talking about it.

Theres been so much talk about how the Academy is chasing viewers who wouldnt ordinarily tune into the show. I guess the mythological person theyve been after is someone very excited to see Beyonc dressed as a tennis ball? Thats what opened the show. (And Bey didnt even win! I still dont understand the politics/legality of inviting Beyonc to an awards show and then not giving it to her.)

In any case, was this years Oscars good? Im better at the other question. Was it bad? No, absolutely not. That Im so obsessed with the awards and cant answer either way? Well, that: Thats a slap in the face.

Read more on: thedailybeast, oscars


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