Chris Rock and Will Smith are seen onstage during the 94th Annual Academy Awards.
Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
- Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock across the face during Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony.
- Rock had made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith – who suffers from hair loss due to alopecia.
- “Say how you feel about it and ask for change, but violence is not the answer,” says a psychiatrist, about the viral incident.
The now-viral moment saw Smith approach Rock on stage and slap the comedian across the face. The physical altercation was in reaction to a joke Rock made about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith’s appearance. Smith continued to shout vulgarity at the comedian as he returned to his seat.
In December, Jada Pinkett Smith told Billboard she has been battling alopecia, an autoimmune disorder which can cause hair loss and balding.
Smith has since apologised to Rock for the slap.
Was Smith right for defending his family? The incident now raises questions of whether violence is ever acceptable.
Channel24 speaks to Professor Renata Schoeman, a psychiatrist and head of the MBA Health Care Leadership programme at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, about the incident and whether violence is ever justifiable.
“Being at such a public event is already a high-stress environment, whether positive or negative,” says Schoeman.
Schoeman says about the insensitive nature of the joke aimed at Jada: “The topic can be considered sensitive. For a lot of women, not everyone, their self-worth and feminity are wrapped up in their hair.”
She adds: “If Jada is sensitive about it, then Will might have really just wanted to protect her. It was maybe not a funny joke.”
In response to Smith’s apology, in which he referenced his portrayal of Richard Williams in the movie King Richard, Schoeman says she’s not convinced that Smith went “too deep into the role.”
“I think it’s a fairly natural response to want to defend someone you love. Maybe he got carried away in the moment,” she says.
Society often has higher moral standards for celebrities than for people in other roles, like doctors and lawyers. You expect more from them than perhaps someone in a different discipline.
“As a celebrity, you’re on a pedestal, and you’re aware that you’re a role model. At that moment, you might not think of that. But afterwards, there is an additional level of shame and guilt and worrying about the consequences,” she continues.
Schoeman emphasises that violence is never the answer and says: “The correct response, even though it’s very difficult in the moment, would be to tell the person that their remark is making you uncomfortable. And ask: ‘Please can you retract, rephrase and refrain from making remarks in the future?’
“Say how you feel about it and ask for change, but violence is not the answer.”
Schoeman admits that it’s very hard to predict a violent outburst, especially when considering other factors such as, substance abuse, sleep deprivation and other external stressors.
She says: “No one is immune to, or above aggression, or losing your temper. We all get angry. It’s important to acknowledge that anger but not necessarily act on it.”