When the moment came for the Oscar show's producers to step up and say that someone who commits violence on live television doesn't get their moment in the winners' circle, the producers blinked.



It's been called the slap that was seen around the world. At last night's Academy Awards ceremony, Will Smith took a swing at presenter Chris Rock after the comedian cracked an unflattering joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. A few minutes later, Smith won the Oscar for best actor and seemed to reference the moment.


WILL SMITH: Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said, but love will make you do crazy things.

SNELL: The incident affected the tenor and the rest of the show afterwards and is still sparking a lot of discussion among viewers and fans. The Academy has launched a formal review of the incident. Here to discuss it with us is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans, who watched the telecast and wrote a column about Hollywood's reaction for npr.org. Hi, Eric.


SNELL: So, first of all, for those people who didn't see this or didn't see it replayed a thousand times, can you tell us a little bit more detail about what exactly happened here?

DEGGANS: Yeah, this was all over social media clogging everybody's Twitter feed, I think. Chris Rock was announcing the nominees for best documentary film, and he was cracking jokes about the celebrity couples that were in front of the stage. And he looked down at Jada Pinkett Smith, who has close-cropped hair, and he said this.


CHRIS ROCK: Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2 - can't wait to see it. All right?


DEGGANS: And now that crack kind of drew groans and some laughs, and even Will Smith seemed to laugh at first. But then Smith walked onstage and slapped Rock across the face, went back to his seat and started shouting profanities at Chris Rock before the comic went back to introducing the nominees. Now, it's worth noting that Rock also cracked a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith when he was hosting the 2016 Oscars that was pretty tough. And it's also worth noting that she suffers from alopecia, which may have made the Smiths kind of sensitive last night about jokes on her short hair.

SNELL: Yeah, and that's a lot of background that maybe people who were watching it in the moment didn't necessarily know. And you wrote a column for npr.org headline, "Why Did Hollywood Applaud Will Smith After He Slapped Chris Rock?" So what is your answer to that question? What do you think it says about Hollywood right now?

DEGGANS: Well, to be sure, some of it seem to be shock. People just were processing what they had seen, especially from Will Smith, who has always seemed to handle touchy situations with humor and charm. But some of this felt like Hollywood was celebrating a superstar who had committed an act of violence right in front of them on live television. I mean, I was surprised that producers of the Oscars even allowed Smith on stage to give a speech. I mean, at a time when there's been a lot of effort made to hold powerful but abusive people in Hollywood accountable through the #MeToo movement and other actions, it just seemed kind of hypocritical to allow somebody who attacked somebody physically to then accept one of showbusiness's highest honors and then give a speech, when he apologized to the Oscar Academy and he apologized to his fellow nominees, but not to the person that he struck.

SNELL: Right. And, you know, some fans online have criticized Chris Rock, saying that Black women face a lot of expectations over their hair and that he shouldn't have told the joke in the first place.

DEGGANS: Absolutely. I think they make a great point. And Chris Rock even produced a documentary about this stuff in 2009 called "Good Hair." But the bottom line is that the crassest jokes in the world don't justify a violent response. I mean, I remember covering award shows years and years ago where musical artists had conflicts and they were fear that people would be assaulted on stage or they might be assaulted backstage. And this is just not the kind of fear that one of the nation's most accomplished actors should be bringing to the Academy Awards.

SNELL: Do you think there will be any repercussions for anyone involved, from Will Smith for the Oscars or for Chris Rock?

DEGGANS: Sadly, I think Hollywood indicated last night it just wants to move on. I mean, Rock hasn't said anything publicly. Police say he's probably not going to file charges. The biggest damage here may be to Will Smith's reputation. He's an actor known for his popularity and work ethic, but he never seemed to get as much credit for the creative quality of his acting. And here was a chance to celebrate him for finally winning what seemed like a career achievement Oscar, and instead he ensured that people will mostly remember how he slapped another man on stage. I don't think he's going to face any real punishment. They're not going to take away his Oscar or anything. But that asterisk on his win, that may be the worst punishment of all.

SNELL: That's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Thanks, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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