I’m going to be honest here…
The most iconic scene of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air comes when Lou, Will’s estranged father, randomly visits him, rekindles his relationship with Will, and selfishly chooses to abandon him once again. After seeing Lou walk out of his life for the last time, Will unleashes his emotions in the presence of Uncle Phil, in what was Will Smith’s best acting on the sitcom.
Will: No, you know what, Uncle Phil? I’ma get through college without him, I’ma get a great job without him, I’ma marry me a beautiful honey, and I’ma have me a whole bunch of kids. I’ll be a better father than he ever was, and I sure as hell don’t need him for that, ’cause ain’t a damn thing he could ever teach me about how to love my kids!
[Will starts to cry]
Will: How come he don’t want me, man?
I don’t know a Black man who grew up in the 90’s that doesn’t remember that scene and for those of us that grew up without our fathers, it still brings tears to our eyes. I knew then and I know now, I love Will Smith.
Knowing the optics, he chose to strike another person, let alone another Black man in the most public of forums and knowing how hard the giants whose shoulders he stands on worked to get him there, he chose to disregard their calloused hands and weary feet. Knowing what it means to be Black in America, Will Smith decided to play into the stereotypes for a moment of misguided machismo.
Will Smith is my favorite actor and Chris Rock is my favorite comedian. That doesn’t mean that they are the best to ever do it, within their respective crafts. However, it’s undeniable that they’re among the greats. I wanted to start off by professing my admiration for both men because I admittedly have always had a tough time critiquing them. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air opened my mind up to a world that I wanted to inhabit. The characters, witty dialogue and compelling writing made viewers simultaneously fall in love with and question what we know about Black cultures. And that’s thanks in large part to Will, a then-nascent actor and charismatic frontman that could easily bring a smile to any face. When he won, we won and when he won big, we were on top of the world. Independence Day, Enemy of the State, and Pursuit of Happyness are examples of how he’s grown as an actor, and while I champion them, I will readily admit that he’s had so many flops that I question if I should spend money on his latest works. To be honest, I was even on the fence about King Richard, but my affinity for Will drew me in. And deservedly, he finally did it — he got over the hump and won the illustrious Academy Award. An actor’s skill and prowess are not defined by an Oscar, but we’re beyond pretending that they don’t matter. Those gold-plated statues open doors and create opportunities for anyone who has the chance to hold one and Willard Carroll Smith II finally got to take one home. However, that’s not what we’re going to remember most about that night. We’re going to remember the awkward moments before when Will slapped Chris Rock for disrespecting Jada Pinkett-Smith.
I won’t defend his joke. It was wrong and to say that he’s just a comedian, gives anyone that grabs a mic the license to say whatever they want without consequences and that’s not the world that we live in.
The best comedy is offensive to someone. Whether it’s the content, style, tone, or delivery, anyone can easily be offended by things that make others clutch their midsections in pain. I’m okay with that — I know what it is. When you go to a comedy show, you’re submitting to the experience. We go for the expectation to laugh, but sometimes we are the joke. Everyone understands that about comedy, but it doesn’t give comedians complete freedom to say anything, without consequence. And as much as comics will push back and hold onto the vestiges of this original pillar of comedy, it’s 2022. We’re in a different time and we’re all being held accountable for what we say.
Despite that, I’m still a fan of Chris Rock. He says what’s on his mind and he often points to social issues in ways that other comics don’t. Coming up in a time when many comedians were apolitical, he had no problem discussing politics, elections, and what he felt we needed to do to move the world in a positive direction. I love that about him, but similar to my stance on Will Smith, it ain’t all hits. He’s received his share of criticism, especially when it comes to his comments about Black women, and it would seem that he learned from it. That’s why I’m angry with Chris Rock. I expected better from him. Did he know that Jada suffers from alopecia and that’s the reason that she shaved her head? We’ll never truly know. Either way, the joke came off as tasteless and out of touch. I won’t defend his joke. It was wrong and to say that he’s just a comedian, gives anyone that grabs a mic the license to say whatever they want without consequences and that’s not the world that we live in.
And, I’m angry with Will Smith because the man that I followed and admired — the man whose memoir is so vulnerable that it feels as if he’s having a conversation with you from across the coffee table — chose to tarnish his night, his work, and the work of his colleagues with the stroke of his hand. Knowing the optics, he chose to strike another person, let alone another Black man in the most public of forums and knowing how hard the giants whose shoulders he stands on worked to get him there, he chose to disregard their calloused hands and weary feet. Knowing what it means to be Black in America, Will Smith decided to play into the stereotypes for a moment of misguided machismo.
There are those that defend him.
“Why should he address it privately? Chris Rock ain’t say all that about his wife privately!”
“He has a right to defend himself and his wife.”
“Come on, Jay. If someone was talking crazy about your wife like that, you’d slap them too.”
Maybe so, but I’m not Will Smith. I’m a role model to some, but not to a generation. I’m a hero to few, but not to millions, and I don’t have the same expectations. I’m not saying that it’s right. I’m just saying what it is. I’d like to think that, at my best, we’d privately discuss the issue backstage and at my worst, I would have publicly heckled him from the crowd. That’s why the slap was so shocking; because I wouldn’t have calmly gotten up from my seat, walked onto the stage, and slapped a man in the middle of an award ceremony. And, maybe that’s why I’m really mad.
Will Smith just slapped the shit out of another man for disrespecting his wife, in the most public way possible, and without repercussion. He was able to do so without security showing him the door, without being charged for assault (because that really could have happened), and he was able to win the night’s top prize for an individual performance. I don’t condone violence and I’ll be the first to tell anyone that hitting someone won’t solve the problem, but it sure as hell might feel good. Maybe, I’m also mad at Will Smith because, even for a moment, his privilege trumped his race, and that’s a feeling that I’ve never had. I admit that I would have loved to slap anyone that’s ever called me a “nigger,” or poked fun at my mom’s bald head due to lupus. I dream about swinging on the professor that called a family member “disabled” because they asked him not to rush through a lecture. I’d be lying if I claimed that the thought has never crossed my mind. I just never acted on it. Not in that way.
I’m angry for all of the right reasons and now that the shock of the event has worn off, I’m pissed at how this is going to play out. But, living through him for that moment felt good.
Maybe I’m mad at Will Smith because I’m a little jealous.
Maybe you are too.
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