Social media posts are falsely claiming that a confrontation between two celebrities at the 94th Academy Awards was actually plotted by Pfizer, one of the sponsors of the ceremony, to promote a new medication.
At the March 27 event, comedian Chris Rock made a joke about the shaved head of actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who has an autoimmune disease called alopecia areata that causes hair loss. After Rock’s joke, actor Will Smith, Pinkett Smith’s husband, walked onstage and slapped him.
In the days that followed the ceremony, several viral Facebook posts said that Pfizer staged the confrontation to put alopecia areata in the headlines, since the drug company “has a new alopecia medication coming out.”
A March 28 post said the incident was “a great marketing tool for Pfizer,” to use “such a ‘high end’ celebrity whose husband just so happens to be winning an Oscar that very night to promote their ever so ‘promising’ (medication) for…you guessed it ALOPECIA.”
One March 29 post said, “So let me get this straight, the person who sponsored the Oscars has a new alopecia medication coming out, and alopecia is trending on social media now because of the Chris Rock and Will Smith smack down… I’m sorry but this is no coincidence!?!?!” The post also said the incident was “a bunch of actors acting.”
And yet another post on March 29 said, “You know what would be crazy? If the sponsor of the 0scars was in Phase 3 clinical trials for a new drug ritlecitinib to treat alopecia, with a projected $750 million annual revenue, just awaiting FDA approval. Wouldn’t that be crazy? Coincidence?”
The posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Pfizer does not have any drugs for alopecia areata that are ready for imminent release. The company has two medications — ritlecitinib and etrasimod — under development to treat the condition, but neither will be available to the public in the near future.
Pfizer does not anticipate federal regulatory approval of ritlecitinib until at least 2023, according to the company’s December 2021 presentation to investors.
Ritlecitinib successfully completed Phase 2b/3 trials in August 2021 for patients with alopecia areata. Pfizer said at the time that the data from the trial “will form the basis for planned future regulatory filings,” but the company has not released any further information about the filing.
The other drug, etrasimod, successfully completed a Phase 3 trial for treating ulcerative colitis, the company announced on March 29. The medication is also being investigated for other immuno-inflammatory diseases including alopecia areata. Etrasimod is not anticipated to be approved for use for alopecia areata until 2028.
Pfizer was a “proud” sponsor of the Academy Awards — the top tier of sponsorship — along with Rolex, Verizon and Crypto.com, AdWeek reported.
Despite the posts’ claims that Pfizer used its clout as a sponsor to stage the incident between Smith and Rock, media reports have said there is no evidence the slap was staged. That night, Smith apologized to the Academy and other nominees when accepting his own award for Best Actor in the movie “King Richard,” and the following day, he apologized to Rock via an Instagram post.
The Academy’s Board of Governors said it has initiated disciplinary proceedings against the actor “for violations of the Academy’s Standards of Conduct, including inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior, and compromising the integrity of the Academy.” It will decide at an April 18 meeting whether to suspend, expel or otherwise sanction him.
Facebook posts say that Pfizer staged a confrontation between Smith and Rock at the Academy Awards to put alopecia areata in the headlines, since the drug company “has a new alopecia medication coming out.”
Pfizer has two medications — ritlecitinib and etrasimod — under development to treat alopecia areata. But neither drug will be available to the public in the near future. The earliest anticipated date for federal regulatory approval of either drug is 2023.
Media reports have said there is no evidence to support the claim that Will Smith’s slap was staged. The Academy has initiated disciplinary proceedings against Smith, and he apologized for his actions.
We rate this claim False.