Will Smith’s assault on Chris Rock at the Oscars 2022 has led to a heated discussion about toxic masculinity online, with both men facing strong backlash for perpetuating its harmful ideals.
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 24 hours, you've probably heard a thing or two about Will Smith's attack on Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday evening.
The A-list actor stunned both attendees and viewers when he smacked host Chris Rock for making a wisecrack about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, just before the Oscar for Best Documentary was announced.
The comedian pointedly joked at The Nutty Professor star's alopecia-related hair loss, comparing her shaved head to that of Demi Moore’s character in the 1997 action film, GI Jane. Will then ascended the stage and violently confronted Chris, striking him across the face and causing him to momentarily stumble. He then returned to his seat, where he shouted, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f**king mouth.”
Chris reassured Will that he would do so, before resuming entertainer mode with the witty remark, “Well, that was the greatest night in the history of television.”
Shortly after, Will was awarded Best Actor for his performance in King Richard, a biopic based on the father of Serena and Venus Williams. He tearfully apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees in his acceptance speech, explaining that, like his on-screen character, he was a ‘fierce defender’ of his family.
He has also since apologized to Chris Rock, who declined to file charges, in a lengthy Instagram post. The Academy is now launching a formal review into the incident, but it appears unlikely that Will be stripped of his accolade.
A wildfire of conversation about the limits of comedic material has followed, as some question whether or not it’s ever okay to make fun of someone’s medical condition. It’s also drawn attention to the protected status of celebrities in society, with Will facing virtually no consequences for committing a violent crime in front of millions of witnesses.
Amidst all this chatter, there’s one phrase that has repeatedly surfaced to describe the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star’s actions.
Will’s conduct has been widely condemned by critics as a textbook display of ‘toxic masculinity’, a term that describes harmful beliefs and behaviors men are traditionally expected to uphold. His outburst—which he said himself arose from a need to defend Jada—has largely been attributed to the narrative that it is always the man’s role to protect his family, no matter what the cost.
Many folks have taken to Twitter to criticize Will for fuelling this old-fashioned idea, arguing that there is never a justification to assault a fellow human being.
#WillSmith For the kids watching at home: A tasteless joke does not entitle you to assault another person. Calling this behaviour "manly" is #ToxicMasculinity #WillSmith #Oscars pic.twitter.com/oxSw8JyZBnMarch 28, 2022
Will Smith hitting someone and getting away with it is a perfect example of toxic masculinity and the way it is approved by society, especially for powerful men.March 28, 2022
Not everyone believes Will is the only guilty party in the confrontation though.
Chris Rock has also been accused of toxic masculinity for joking about Jada Pinkett Smith's hair loss, which has come after a history of mocking the Hollywood star in past monologues. He ridiculed Jada the last time he hosted the Oscars in 2016, remarking that there was no point in her protesting the show over its lack of diversity.
"Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties," he quipped. "I wasn’t invited!”
Some have condemned his treatment of Jada as an example of misogynoir, a type of misogyny aimed specifically at black women.
this question is rhetorical. why is it that white feminists have labeled will smith’s behavior “toxic masculinity” but not chris rock’s pattern of belittling jada pinkett-smith and black women as a whole?March 28, 2022
Fascinating that Chris Rock mocking Jada's hair / illness in public isn't toxic masculinity, but Will Smith slapping him over it isLike Black women's hair and general appearance being treated as the constant punchline is just normal, but reacting to it stands out to you?March 28, 2022
On Tuesday, Jada broke her silence on the situation with a short statement on Instagram.
"This is a season for healing and I'm here for it," she told her 11.7 million followers.
Chris has yet to comment publicly, but it's understood he has still not spoken to Will about the incident.
Emma is a Lifestyle News Writer for woman&home. Hailing from the lovely city of Dublin, she mainly covers the Royal Family and the entertainment world, as well as the occasional health and wellness feature. Always up for a good conversation, she has a passion for interviewing everyone from A-list celebrities to the local GP - or just about anyone who will chat to her, really.
Emma holds an MA in International Journalism from City, University of London and a BA in English Literature from Trinity College Dublin.
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