Will Smith stormed on stage and slapped presenter Chris Rock after he’d made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair. Smith later went on to win his first Oscar but he had overshadowed his own victory.
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
This morning, the Oscars are all the buzz, but not for the reasons one might expect. Actor Will Smith walked on stage and slapped presenter Chris Rock after he made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair. Smith later went on to win his very first Oscar, but he very clearly overshadowed his very own victory. I’m here with Aisha Harris, co-host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, who watched all of it play out. So let’s start off by playing a clip of this moment. That’s where Chris Rock was on stage, cracking jokes. Let’s take a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OR ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHRIS ROCK: Jada, I love you. “GI Jane 2” – can’t wait to see it, all right?
ROCK: It’s – that was a nice one. OK. I’m out here – uh-oh. Richard (laughter).
(SOUNDBITE OR SLAPPING)
ROCK: Oh, wow. wow.
MARTINEZ: All right, Aisha. So walk us through what happened there.
AISHA HARRIS, BYLINE: So basically, Chris Rock makes a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith being in “GI Jane 2” because she has – her head is shaved and she – he seemed to be making a joke about her being bald. It’s not clear if Chris Rock was aware that she has alopecia, which causes hair loss, but she’s been very public about it in the past. And Will Smith obviously took offense to it, walked up on stage, clocked Chris Rock, and then walked back to his seat and yelled twice for Chris Rock to keep my wife’s name out of your mouth. And he used some expletives there.
MARTINEZ: Yeah. So as you mentioned, he went back to his seat, yelled what he yelled. But then as the night went on, he won for best actor – his first ever Academy Award.
HARRIS: Right. Exactly. And the speech was not the apology that I think a lot of people hoped for or expected. He basically compared himself to Richard Williams, which is the character he won for – playing Venus and Serena Williams’s father – and mentioned how art imitates life and how people often called Richard Williams crazy and weird and that he was just defending his loved ones. He also invoked God and the devil. And he didn’t actually apologize to Chris Rock. He apologized to the members of the academy, and he apologized to his fellow nominees, but there was no apology to the person who deserved it the most.
MARTINEZ: Now, it doesn’t seem like it, but there were other really big moments at the actual awards. Tell us about those.
HARRIS: Yeah. So, I mean, it was interesting to see “CODA” win all the awards it was nominated for, including the biggest one – best picture. With that win, Apple became the first streaming service to take home the big prize on Oscar night. Also from “CODA,” Troy Kotsur, who plays the father in that movie – he won the best supporting actor award. And he is now the first deaf man to get an Oscar for acting.
MARTINEZ: And speaking of making history, Ariana DeBose won for best supporting actress.
HARRIS: Yeah, it was great to see her win because it was a very historic moment. She’s the first openly queer woman of color to win an Oscar for acting. And it’s also worth noting that this is a sort of rare win where a pair has won Oscars for playing the same person. So Rita Moreno won the award 60 years ago for playing Anita, and she was also in the room that night to cheer Ariana on. So it was really nice to see that happen.
MARTINEZ: That’s NPR’s Aisha Harris. She’s co-host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. Thanks a lot, Aisha.
HARRIS: Thank you.
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