It was only a matter of time before race ideology made its way into the Will Smith-Chris Rock Oscars slap discussion.
In an op-ed published by the Guardian on Tuesday, freelance culture writer Tayo Bero lashed out at Hollywood personalities and internet critics alike for what she viewed as an outsized, ultimately race-fueled condemnation of Smith.
The “King Richard” actor was under fire Sunday and Monday for open-palm smacking comedian and Academy Awards host Rock live on stage Sunday night after he made a joke about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head. Pinkett Smith reportedly suffers from complications with the auto-immune disorder alopecia, which causes baldness.
The joke didn’t sit well with Smith, who resorted to violence and shouting profanities in objection.
The criticism of Smith came from many angles and personalities, and had many layers — not the least of which being the Smiths’ public disclosure of marital issues in recent years and how much that may have impacted the actor’s reaction.
But according to Bero, it all spawned from one common thread: Racism.
“White outrage about Will Smith’s slap is rooted in anti-Blackness,” Bero wrote. “It’s inequality in plain sight.”
“Most people agree the slap shouldn’t have happened. But there’s something that feels precious at best, and downright racist at worst, about white people’s reaction to the now-infamous smack,” she continued, making reference to certain overreactions in the moments following the incident.
Those instances included Hollywood director Judd Apatow’s since-deleted tweet in which he claimed Smith “could have killed” Rock, radio host Howard Stern’s comparison of Smith to former President Donald Trump, and “white women on Twitter somehow decid[ing] that Smith’s actions meant he must be beating his wife.”
“It would seem that there’s a layer of hyper-violence that’s being projected on to Smith simply because he is a Black man who was defending his Black wife,” Bero assessed.
She would later rebuke white audiences for consuming violence against black people on screen to an almost fetishistic degree while being “so distraught about an open-palm slap,” arguing “this kind of performative pearl-clutching is only ever reserved for Black men who mess up.”
Bero also took issue with the repeated “punching down on Black women,” incriminating black male comedians for their frequent participation, a line of critique that has been written elsewhere.
Writing for Forbes on Monday, senior diversity, equity, and inclusion contributor Janice Gassam Asare asked, “Why are jokes always at the expense of Black women?”
“America’s favorite public sport is berating Black women; it has become social currency,” Asare added. “There is a long history of Black women and femmes being dishonored, disrespected, denigrated, and degraded, especially within Hollywood.”
Smith has since apologized to Rock and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for his actions.
The Academy initially offered little in response to the incident, allowing Smith to take the stage ten minutes later to receive his Best Actor award for his role in “King Richard.” In the film, he played Richard Williams, the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.
However, in a statement on Monday, the Academy said it is reviewing the incident to see if disciplinary action should be taken.