Will Smith’s Instagram Apology
There was violence on March 22, 2022, at the 94th Academy Awards ceremony when Will Smith walked on stage during the live broadcast and gave an openhanded slap to Chris Rock, the host of the ceremony.
Why? During the show, Chris Rock referred to Will Smith’s wife Jada by joking that she’d appear in G.I. Jane 2 — a clear reference to actress Demi Moore’s short haircut while portraying Jordan O’Neil, the main character in G.I. Jane” (1997). To be clear, this is no “G.I. Jane 2” — at least for now.
So, why bring this up after four months have passed since that ugly incident? An incident that arguably tarnished what should have been a shining moment for a lot of people, particularly black people. This was a top-notch production led by filmmaker Will Packer’s production team, the Best Documentary Feature win for Quest Love’s “Summer of Soul”, hosting duties performed of course by Chris Rock, and a Best Actor win for Will Smith for his portrayal of Richard Smith in the feature film “King Richard” — the real-life father of Serena and Venus Williams.
The reason I’m bringing this up is that on July 29, a friend shared an Instagram video of Will Smith addressing that unfortunate night with what I’m guessing are questions from his fans and admirers.
You should watch the video yourself for your take. In the video itself, he’s addressing why he assaulted Chris, whether his wife prompted him to do so, having a dialogue with Chris over that night and what hit home for me was this display of poor judgment being an extension of what Will described as his people-pleasing trauma. As a survivor of violent trauma, this is quite intriguing to me.
When it comes to performers, I’m always reminding myself, “Hey, this person is a professional actor.” How do I know if what he or she is saying is authentic?
The short answer is I don’t.
Based on what I saw from Will in that Instagram video, my visual DNA test implies that the guy whom I don’t personally know was being authentic and remorseful. I think the guy cares deeply about what happened and what people think of him — Chris Rock’s family included.
Let me be clear and transparent on my end — I wrote an editorial on this event the day after it all happened.
In my take, I thought the act of Will slapping Chris in an auditorium full of people during a live broadcast was “… a trash move”. I still do think it was a trash move.
I also said that Chris Rock making a joke about Jada’s short haircut given her alleged alopecia struggles was a “trash move” and that’s something I need to apologize for whether Chris Rock ever reads this or not. So, Chris, if that’s the case and you’re reading this, please accept my apology, sir. Shame on me.
What I want to get into is the impact of violent trauma based on my own experiences with it. For the record, I’m not a licensed health care professional, clinician, or whatever. I’m a guy that grew up in a home with a presence of extreme domestic violence at times. I am also a guy that grew up in the inner city of South-Central L.A. where there was a lot of violence in my childhood with peers dying, gang violence, police brutality, drug use, etc.
Part of my mission isn’t just advocating for people who have had violent trauma to seek the help they need to the end of living better lives, but for perpetrators of violence, some of which who are victims themselves to be very careful and mindful before they commit an act of violence.
Let me explain.
I see acts of violence like a root system you’d see with a plant or tree. Yeah, you can see the plant blossom at the surface but beneath the soil, various roots branch out from the plant in various directions.
Let’s take what took place at the capitol on January 6th as an example.
A single seed, or in this case, a childish idiot knowingly lies about an election, holds a rally whose whole premise is based on that lie, and from there, a network of people lost their lives, sustained lifelong injuries, committed suicide, are experiencing severe PTSD and anxiety and the families of these individuals are in some way negatively impacted.
What happened that night of the Oscars was no January 6th Insurrection, but Chris Rock was slapped while doing his job in front of 16.6 million live viewers.
It doesn’t stop there. Here’s a very small sample size I found of internet hits from this incident on YouTube alone as of July 30th:
The Guardian: 100 million views.
Entertainment Tonight: 23 million views.
ABC 7 This is a local station here in Southern California: with 9.6 million views.
149.2 million views of this incident from a very casual five-minute google search.
Can you imagine the total number of views of this incident? And yes, I know variables of this incident with celebrity culture and the high profile of the ceremony fuel that very high visibility.
Let’s bring this back to the concept of violence being a root system:
Imagine the trauma of a mother seeing her son assaulted and humiliated on live TV. Where do you think Chris Rock’s daughters are emotionally having endured the sight of their father being attacked?
How about Chris’s siblings? Many of us have brothers and sisters. Many of us know the fury and rage we experience when an outsider puts their hands on our family. We carry that. We want vengeance, but know that we must exercise restraint.
What about the air that was sucked out of the room of that auditorium from these first-time Oscar winners who not only will never experience the first-time Oscar again but didn’t experience the joy and fulfillment to its full extent? They were upstaged by a selfish, impulsive act.
Let’s not miss one of the critical pieces of this event: Based on what Will said in that Instagram video, this is a result of untreated trauma. It’s the same reason why I made some mistakes in my life because of untreated trauma and why some of you may have been on the receiving or giving end of violence.
These kinds of things happen to “good” people. I don’t doubt that Will is inherently a good man. I do feel that his punishment of slowly regaining the trust and good graces of his fans and family needs to be organically regained, not accelerated.
Same thing with the Academy’s punishment. He needs to sit in that punishment. The reason why I say that is because we tend as people to forgive prematurely and lift punishments, especially on the heels of a heartfelt apology.
The positive of this is that it’s a good case study for us all.
Think of a violent act as the epicenter of a moment, but as in the case of this Will Smith and Chris Rock spectacle, the tremors extended outward to both of their families and out into the public.
I imagine that Chris’ family was very upset. Will’s fellow nominees were negatively impacted with their moments being dampened. The production crew and co-hosts put a lot of effort into making that ceremony a memorable night.
For the record — people protecting Will on that night and encouraging that type of behavior is straight-up BS. True masculinity is exercising responsibility, especially during those moments when our composure is being tested.
I hope this wasn’t too harsh of a criticism of Will because that’s not my intent. I don’t like the idea of giving people more tough love and criticism than they deserve especially when it appears they’re in the process of making things right, correcting their behavior, and being accountable.
Let me put a fine point on this and close it out: Before initiating violence on any level, you have to make damn sure that it is 1) Unavoidable and 2) The last resort.
These acts go far beyond the physical place where they are acted out.
Imani Kaliid is a Los Angeles native, host of “Survivor Stories: From Pain to Power” (Roku TV, Amazon Fire), author of “There Was Violence” and advocate for victims of violent trauma. Follow him on Twitter: @SurvivorImaniK