What just happened? Will Smith sensationally ‘slaps’ Chris Rock, leaving audience stunned

At the pointy end of the Oscars ceremony inside the Dolby auditorium on Monday, an on-stage “slap” between two of Hollywood’s biggest stars has left the audience in stunned silence.

In the final hour of the show, stand-up comedian Chris Rock was presenting the next category when he made a joke about the wife of actor Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith.

According to Vanity Fair, Rock nodded to Pinkett-Smith’s shaved head and said he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2“, in a joke about Demi Moore’s shaven head in GI Jane.

What happened next was the stuff of … movies.

In extraordinary scenes, Smith walked onto stage, with Rock still half-smiling, and slapped the comedian across the face.

The audience fell into a stunned silence as Smith walked back, sat down, and yelled out: “Keep my wife’s name out of your f–king mouth.”

Social media immediately went into meltdown, with speculation about whether the slap was real or a staged segment in the lead-up to the best actor award.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith on the red carpet before the ceremony. Photo: Getty

Smith was nominated – and considered the front-runner –  for playing the father of Serena and Venus Williams in King Richard.

Pinkett-Smith was silent, and actress Lupita Nyong’o, who was sitting directly behind Smith, was dumbfounded.

A shaken Rock went on to present the award for best documentary feature to Summer of Soul (Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised).

The ceremony continued as planned, although the assembled audience seemed to barely take in the 50th anniversary tribute to The Godfather.

Vanity Fair reported that during the commercial break, “Denzel Washington pulled Smith over to the side for a conversation, and was kneeling with his arm around Jada Pinkett-Smith when the show came back from commercial”.

In the lobby, people huddled around their phones watching replays of the incident.

“I don’t think that’s a joke,” one woman said. Two others added, “Look, we went to rehearsals, and that was not in Chris Rock’s script.”

The Los Angeles Times tweeted: “No, that wasn’t planned”.

Film director Judd Apatow wrote: “Seems like Will Smith’s plan to get comedians and the world to not make jokes about him is not going to pan out”.

“The Williams family must be furious.

“Pure narcissism. Also – GI Jane was gorgeous. What exactly is insulting about being compared to a ripped, stunning Demi?,” he wrote.

Less than half an hour later, Smith was back on stage, this time making an emotionally charged acceptance speech for winning best actor.

“Love will make you do crazy things,” he said with tears running down his face.

“I want to apologise to the Academy. I want to apologise to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment and I’m not crying for winning an award.”

Smith pointedly did not offer an apology to Rock.

“It’s not about winning an award for me. It’s about being able to shine a light on all of the people. Tim and Trevor and Zack and Saniyya [Sidney, who plays Venus] and Demi [Singleton, who plays Serena] and Aunjanue [Ellis, who plays his wife Oracene “Brandy” Price] the entire cast and crew of King Richard, Venus and Serena, the entire Williams family,” he said in his charged speech.

“Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams.”

Smith and Pinkett-Smith’s son Jaden Smith tweeted “And That’s How We Do It”, soon after the Oscars broadcast ended.

In a follow-up tweet, he wrote: “My dad’s speech made me cry.”

Smith, 53, one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, had been nominated twice before, for 2001’s Ali and 2006 movie The Pursuit of Happiness.

This time, he depicted Richard Williams and his unconventional strategy for elevating his daughters from a municipal park in a tough Los Angeles neighbourhood to Centre Court at Wimbledon.

Smith shot to fame in the 1990s in the television sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and took on mostly comedy and action roles early in his movie career before expanding into drama.

He earned his first Oscar nomination for playing Muhammad Ali and his second for portraying another real person, Chris Gardner, a one-time homeless father who went on to found his own brokerage firm.

Isha Price, one of Venus and Serena’s three older half-sisters, was an early collaborator on the King Richard script, providing details and recollections that made the movie the story of the family.

Venus and Serena joined the project as executive producers only after they watched the completed film. Richard Williams has been in ill health for years and did not take part.

Who else won an Oscar? CODA best film in streaming first

After a movie year often light on crowds, the Academy Awards named an unabashed crowd-pleaser, the deaf family drama CODA, as best picture.

The decision handed Hollywood’s top award to a streaming service for the first time.

Sian Heder’s CODA, which premiered at a virtual Sundance Film Festival in winter 2021, started out as an underdog but gradually emerged as the Oscars’ feel-good favourite.

It also had one very deep-pocketed backer in Apple TV+, which scored its first best picture Academy Award, less than three years after launching.

The decision also handed another near-miss defeat to Netflix, the veteran streamer that for years has tried vainly to score best picture.

Its best chance, Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, had a leading 12 nominations.

But CODA rode a wave of goodwill driven by its cast, including Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant.

It’s the first film with a largely deaf cast to win best picture. CODA managed that despite being one of the least-nominated films. It had only three for Sunday’s ceremony.

Not since 1932’s Grand Hotel has a movie won best picture with fewer than four nods.

Campion received her second Oscar, taking out best director for her gothic western The Power of the Dog. She is just the third woman in the Oscars’ 94-year history to take home the prize.

Campion recently described herself as “the grandmother of the women’s movement in film”.

Jessica Chastain won best actress for playing TV evangelist Tammy Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

-with AAP

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