UPDATED, 8:30 PM: Chris Rock got more than he may have bargained for as a presenter at the 94th Academy Awards. While presenting the award for Best Documentary Feature, which ultimately went to Questlove’s Summer of Soul, he made a joke at the expense of Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, leading to an on-stage altercation that was not scripted and drew gasps from the room, according to sources.
“Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it,” Rock said with reference to Pinkett Smith’s appearance.
Will Smith seemed to be laughing following Rock’s comment. But he then stunned the audience at the Dolby by storming the stage and slapping Rock in the face. “Wow,” said Rock afterward. “Will Smith just smacked the s**t out of me.”
Smith’s comments were bleeped when he returned to his seat, but it was apparent that he told Rock, “Keep my wife’s name out your f***king mouth.”
“Wow, dude. It was a G.I. Jane joke,” replied Rock.
“Keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth,” Smith repeated as the audience went silent, according to people present.
Pinkett Smith’s appearance is as a result of alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that she has been public about battling, which causes hair loss by attacking hair follicles.
Sources tell us that Rock later approached the Smiths, possibly to apologize, while Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry spoke with Will Smith during the commercial break. Bradley Cooper also was seen in a conversation with him.
The moment was all the more surreal given the fact that Smith was nominated tonight for his turn in Warner Bros.’ sports drama King Richard and would later return to the stage to claim the award for Best Actor, as predicted.
“Will, Chris, we are gonna solve that like a family at the gold party,” presenter P. Diddy later said in the immediate aftermath. “For now, we will move on with love.”
Later, when Smith returned to claim the prize for Best Actor, he chose to address the moment with Rock. “I want to apologize to The Academy; I want to apologize to all of my fellow nominees,” he said through tears. “I hope the Academy invites me back.” Smith, it should be noted, did not apologize on stage to Rock.
He instead alluded to what happened with reference to Richard Williams—the father of tennis sensations Venus and Serena, whom he portrayed in King Richard. “Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family. In this time of my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world,” Smith said. “Making this film, I got to protect Aunjanue Ellis, who is one of the strongest, most delicate people I’ve ever met. I got to protect Saniyya [Sidney] and Demi [Singleton], the two actresses that played Venus and Serena [Williams]. I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people, and to be a river to my people.
“I know to do what we do, you’ve got to be able to take abuse, you’ve got to be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you’ve got to be able to have people disrespecting you, and you’ve got to smile and pretend like that’s okay,” he added. “Denzel said to me a few moments ago, he said to me, ‘At your highest moment, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you.’ [But] I want to be a vessel for love.”
While Deadline can confirm that Rock has declined to file a police report against Smith, he has up to six months to do so, should he so choose. If a report were to be filed, with Smith being charged with assault, he could face up to six months behind bars, along with a fine of up to $100,000.
Following the incident, The Academy issued a statement saying that it “does not condone violence of any form.”
The clip of Smith and Rock’s altercation can be found above. Smith’s Oscar speech can be found below.
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