The moment that actor Will Smith strode onto the stage at the Academy Awards ceremony and struck comedian Chris Rock because of his anger over a joke has become "the slap seen round the world."
And everybody seems to have an opinion on it.
Some people watched the prime-time blow on network television, initially thinking that it was a scripted skit. Others saw it hours later on morning newscasts, uncomfortably watching the altercation over morning coffee. Still more heard about the incident, googled it, and watched online videos of that part of the Oscars telecast. Subsequently, almost all showed some level of disgust for Smith's swat and distaste for the joke Rock told prior to it.
Whatever manner in which individuals learned about and saw the slap, they have been reviewing it ever since on social media.
"If Will Smith was, say, a non-celebrity or some random cinematographer, he would have been escorted out of the building. Instead, Smith was still given an award and a standing ovation. The whole thing was weird," said one comment on Facebook, offered by a person who added that "Chris Rock’s words were wrong, and should not go without consequences, but violence isn’t the answer."
Repercussions are expected
I know about wrong words that are insensitive. When trying to be funny while writing you inadvertently can be insensitive, and later regret it. People mistakenly can get hurt by what you say or write. Words mean much.
So, I would agree with the social media comment. Chris Rock should not have made a joke at another's expense. It was out of line.
"I am tired of comedians getting a laugh at the expense of individuals or groups of people," another comment said. "They are just glorified, overpaid, verbal bullies."
Still, I cannot condone violence. I cannot ignore the slap. I will not applaud a violent reaction.
I will, however, get past it. I can forgive without forgetting. We all are "a work in progress," as Smith said in his apology to Rock, issued a day later. We should accept the consequences of our actions and learn from our mistakes.
And there likely will be consequences. At this writing, Smith's apology had been released to the public and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was beginning an investigation into the incident.
Whoopi Goldberg, a host on the TV show "The View" along with an Oscar winner who also is a member of the Academy's board of governors, sympathized with Smith, who, she said "snapped."
"Sometimes you get to a point when you behave badly," Goldberg said on the show. "I myself have behaved badly on occasion."
She said she believes that the Academy, when its investigation is complete, should not be forced to return his Oscar for "Best Actor" just because he acted like a bad character in real life.
“We’re not going to take that Oscar from him,” said Goldberg. “There will be consequences I’m sure, but I don’t think that’s what they’re going to do, particularly because Chris said ‘Listen, I’m not pressing any charges.’”
Learning from our mistakes
Perhaps the most thoughtful response to Will Smith's actions was offered by former NBA basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was honest, critical yet measured, and ultimately hopeful commentary – "Will Smith Did A Bad, Bad Thing" – that he posted on "Substack," in his online newsletter.
"With a single petulant blow, he advocated violence, diminished women, insulted the entertainment industry, and perpetuated stereotypes about the Black community," Abdul-Jabbar wrote, before explaining in the essay his reasoning behind each offense.
"I don't want to see him punished or ostracized because of this one, albeit a big one, mistake," wrote Abdul-Jabbar. "I just want this to be a cautionary tale for others not to romanticize or glorify bad behavior. And I want Smith to be the man who really protects others –by admitting the harm he's done to others."
Life, after all, isn't just one long baseball brawl broken up by a hockey fight.
Jada Pinkett Smith, the wife of Will Smith, released her own brief and cryptic comment in the wake of the response to her husband's public apology to Rock, the Academy, and his fans.
"This is the season for healing," she said, "and I'm here for it."
We've been through a sometimes harsh winter. Hope for healing no doubt springs within all of us.
Reach Gary at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @gbrownREP.
This article originally appeared on The Repository: Gary Brown: It is a time for healing after 'the slap'