Will Smith had every right to be angry, but his response to Chris Rock was a chivalrous act loaded with toxic masculinity

The 94th Academy Awards will go down in history for one moment: when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock for making a joke and ridiculing his wife Jada Pinkett Smith over her alopecia

Jada has previously been open about her hair loss, describing it as “terrifying” when handfuls of her hair came out in the shower. In July 2021, she shared a selfie of her shaved head, writing my 50’s are bout to be Divinely lit with this shed [sic].”

That slap has thrown open the door to so many conversations about violence never being an acceptable way to express anger. Should Will Smith be cancelled and made to give back his Leading Man Oscar? Or did he have every right to defend his wife?

I personally feel really sad and disappointed that his 30-year-strong career and his well-deserved turn as Richard Williams in King Richard has been overshadowed by one huge lapse in judgement.

Assault is never OK – it’s what I teach my 10-year-old twin daughters. When one of my daughters was racially abused on a school trip, she didn’t slap the boy but used her words, escalating it to a teacher, resulting in the boy being excluded from the day’s fun activities. My daughter said Will Smith has every right to be angry but this wasn’t the way to express himself. I couldn’t be prouder of her. 

However, Will is in his 50s. He’s had a lifetime of having to be perfect; to be palatable; to be socially acceptable in a country that kills African American men like him every day. I think he cracked under the pressure of this moment. He is human, he is flawed and what he did wasn’t right. I do believe in less cancelling and more conversations to help grow, heal and for everyone to do better. 

I do think there is also huge dollops of toxic masculinity going on. We have all been brought up in a misogynistic patriarchal system where women were painted as deceptive creatures and to be feared but ironically also worshipped and rescued. 

At first, Will politely chuckled at Chris Rock’s “joke” at Jada’s expense. Once he saw her crestfallen face I think he felt the need to defend her honour in a chivalrous act loaded with toxic masculinity. 

Jada is an actress with 30 years of experience in the industry and could have jumped up grabbed the mic and told Rock to settle down. I think it’s interesting how parents around the world will be explaining and discussing Will’s actions. Many have jumped to his defence to say it was correct for him to defend his wife and I think he has every right to have her back and be an ally – but not like this. 

It’s worth mentioning that Chris Rock absolutely should have known better than to objectify and attack Jada on a very emotive and painful subject matter. It’s a fact women are judged, berated and critiqued on their looks in a way many men aren’t. Back in 2009, Chris Rock was inspired to make, what was to be, a seminal documentary on this very subject when his 3-year-old daughter asked him why she didn’t have “good hair.” Rock literally should have known better but he still didn’t deserve or warrant a slap.