Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony made headlines not for the awards, but for Will Smith walking up on stage and slapping Chris Rock after Rock made a jab about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett-Smith.
“Will Smith just smacked the s--- out of me," a flabbergasted Rock told the audience after Smith walked on stage, struck Rock, and then returned to his seat.
“Keep my wife’s name out of your f------ mouth," Smith yelled from his seat after the outburst.
“Wow, dude,” Rock, still on stage, said. “It was a GI.. Jane joke.”
Smith repeated, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f------ mouth.”
An uncensored video of the incident has since gone viral. (Warning: Some graphic language)
UNCENSORED WILL SMITH FOOTAGE AS SHOWN ON AUSTRALIAN TV pic.twitter.com/NcRfdjWxqe— David Mack (@davidmackau) March 28, 2022
Smith went on to win in the Best Actor category for his turn in "King Richard" and apologized to the Academy in his emotional speech. He said in part: “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 got to be able to take abuse. You got to be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you got to be able to have people disrespecting you. And you got to smile and you got to pretend like that’s OK.”
Whether or not you agree with Will Smith’s actions, one very large question remains - how was he able to walk on stage undaunted, and, further, why was he permitted to stay in his seat for the rest of the ceremony?
Variety reports that sources said there appear to be no provisions addressing open-hand smacking across the face on the live show, while another source said that “show producers did not want the optics of having security remove a beloved movie star from his seat, especially as Smith supporters highlighted the defense of his wife Jada Pinkett Smith.”
Los Angeles Police Department said on Sunday night no police report was filed, while the Academy announced on Monday that it has launched a formal review into the incident.
Amidst the litany of takes now being offered, last night's incident is being compared to the 1973 Oscars when Irish American actor John Wayne had to be held by back security during Sacheen Littlefeather's speech for Marlon Brando's Best Actor win.
People talking about "the Oscar's ugliest moment". Some perspective... John Wayne was held back by six security guys because he was trying to get on stage to hit this woman. https://t.co/90sMUuFUXf— Bobby | DJ BobaFatt (@BobaFatt) March 28, 2022
26-year-old Littlefeather, wearing traditional Apache garb, took the stage when Brando was announced as the winner in the Best Actor category for his role in "The Godfather."
After declining to take the statue from presenters Liv Ullmann and Roger Moore, Littlefeather said she was there representing Brando, who had given her a "very long speech" to deliver, which she said she would read to the press afterward.
"He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award," Littlefeather said.
“And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry – excuse me – and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”
Littlefeather was met with a mixture of boos and applause.
“I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that we will in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando.”
Later in the show, Clint Eastwood took aim at the demonstration, saying: “I don’t know if I should present this award on behalf of all the cowboys shot in all the John Ford westerns over the years.”
(Ford famously directed John Wayne in a number of films, including "The Quiet Man," which is credited with "crafting Ireland's lasting image in America.")
While Eastwood managed to make a public comment about Littlefeather and Brando's demonstration, it has since emerged that John Wayne had to be held back by security guards during Littlefeather's speech as he was so incensed.
"During my presentation, he [John Wayne] was coming towards me to forcibly take me off the stage, and he had to be restrained by six security men to prevent him from doing so," Littlefeather told The Guardian in 2021.
In her documentary "Sacheen," she further says: "I was escorted off of that stage by some armed guards.
"And luckily so, because John Wayne was waiting in the wings ready to go on to pull me off the stage, and he had to be held back by six security men because he was so outraged about what I had said."
John Wayne held back by six armed guards
Clip from the film, SACHEEN, Breaking the silence. John Wayne wanted Sacheen Littlefeather off that stage. “[John] Wayne had to be restrained by six men from yanking Littlefeather off the stage.” Sacheen is an active voice against the memorialization of John Wayne. Last year she put out a statement calling on Orange County Airport to #ChangeTheName. "John Wayne clearly expressed highly racist viewpoints in his lifetime. Unfortunately, someone made a choice to name Orange County Airport honoring him. In keeping with today's transformational times, the name "John Wayne Airport" is not in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.” –Sacheen Littlefeather #Sacheen #BreakingTheSilence #SacheenLittlefeather #Oscars1973 #knowledge #AcademyAwards #Oscars #Oscars2021 #DocumentaryShort #ForYourConsideration #AcademyAwards2021 #NativeVoices #WomenInFilm #NativeAmerican #FirstNations #historyfacts #history #herstory #hxtory #vintage #blacklivesmatter #indigenouslivesmatter #ndn #RepresentationMatters #documentary #native #WeAreTheNewHollywood #LosAngeles #JohnWayne #TheGodfather #MarlonBrandoPosted by Sacheen Littlefeather on Friday, February 5, 2021
Entertainment Weekly quotes Wayne as saying afterward: “If [Brando] had something to say, he should have appeared that night and stated his views instead of taking some little unknown girl and dressing her up in an Indian outfit.”
Thankfully Wayne was restrained, but it begs the question, nearly 50 years later, as to why Smith wasn't.