April 04, 2022 – 12:00 PM
Actor Will Smith won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the 94th Annual Academy Awards a week ago. But it will never be what most people remember about that night. You’ll likely forget Ariana DeBose winning the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for “West Side Story,” accepting with joy this queer woman’s triumph.
You probably won’t long remember deaf actor Troy Kotsur’s winning Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Coda, a film treating deaf people with deserved respect. Who will remember that Billie Eilish and her brother, Finneas O’Connell combined talents to win an Oscar for the original song “No Time To Die?” And you’ll likely not recall Lady Gaga’s incredible grace and love for one of Hollywood’s greatest legends, Liza Minnelli, allowing her to announce “Coda” as the year’s Best Picture.
No, all these thoughtful events are dashed from memory…replaced by a 15-second, on-screen performance of a swaggering bully…by the night’s biggest loser even as an Oscar winner…Will Smith.
Smith strode on stage and violently attacked comedian and host Chris Rock, slapping him across the face after Rock joked at wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s expense…quipping that her closely cut hair made her perfect for “G.I. Jane 2”…a reference to a shaved-head Demi Moore 25 years ago in “G.I. Jane.”
Smith’s wife has alopecia, the result of an immune-deficiency, and a health issue but not life-threatening. Rock – like many stand-up comedians – is known for his biting wit…and often celebrities are his targets.
But I‘ll neither defend nor criticize Rock’s speech…other than say that’s what he does. Comedy can be tasteful or tasteless…and rarely does everyone agree on where that line exists. What seems out of place here…indeed, anywhere, is violence…bullying because you’re offended. It’s not civilized. But somehow in America…the rich and powerful just seem to get away with stuff no one else does.
I have liked Will Smith in a number of roles…like “Six Degrees of Separation” and “Pursuit of Happyness.” He’s acted in scores of movies, produced scores more…and is on the Forbes list of richest people in America…worth more than $350 million.
If you watched the Oscars…after Smith became a vigilante and interrupted everyone else’s fun night by slapping the show’s host…he swaggered back to his seat as though he had done something noble. If you missed it…catch it online…it is more telling about Smith than he would like to admit.
Like too many of the rich and powerful everywhere, Smith appears to believe he is somehow entitled…above the rules that constrain others. Think for a moment if just anyone had gone on stage in a live performance broadcast to hundreds of millions worldwide and assaulted a presenter. I’m guessing security guards would have come out of nowhere…and the assailant would be arrested, jailed…and tried for assault and battery.
Of course, Smith wasn’t arrested or jailed…he stayed…and half an hour later claimed an Oscar with a tearful, rambling ode to loyalty and a non-apology apology letting the world know he is a “vessel of love.” Then, he went to an all-night party with other rich and powerful folks. He wasn’t even escorted from the proceedings. No, the rich and powerful are allowed indiscretions…what the rest of us call crimes.
Almost all of those in attendance gave Smith a standing ovation as he strode once again on stage to claim his Oscar. I wonder if ordinary folks – rather than Hollywood’s elite – had been there…you know, teachers, plumbers, doctors, civil servants, parents…would there have been a standing ovation?
If you’re a parent…do you teach your children…“See, that’s how you cope when life serves up something you don’t like…take the law into your own hands…bully the person who offends you.”
In the days since the assault, Hollywood is re-thinking its reaction to Smith’s vigilante act…turns out most ordinary people called it right…he is the guilty party. Otherwise, might we see performers, stand-up comedians and politicians assaulted by hecklers turned vigilantes everywhere?
Once people see your bad behaviour as the standard…the unacceptable becomes, well, acceptable. Increasingly, people think they have a right to choose…obey laws or simply take things into your own hands.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science can swim up stream on this one…going against the currents of common sense and public opinion…or do what is right. As of this writing, the Academy has made no decision. Oscars aren’t taken from winners, regardless of their actions if you consider the evil deeds of Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, among others.
The Academy – if its members don’t speak up – might well go the way of The Golden Globe Awards…bestowed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Plagued by controversies for decades…Golden Globes have no credibility today…offering its statues in a private, un-televised gathering each year.
Will Smith resigned from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences last Friday, and in a 200-word statement apologized once again. He was most critical of himself thus far, calling his behaviour, “shocking, painful, and inexcusable.”
As for me, I can forgive Will Smith, but I would like to see a penalty commensurate with the deed. Maybe, 200 hours of community service…you know, picking up trash along the road with others who committed misdemeanours. And perhaps one of the richest people in America should donate $100,000 to anti-bullying…that’s 25 cents to most of us.
We’ll see. But, remember, it is Hollywood…not reality.
— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.
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