The Oscar-winning actor isn’t worried about his life or livelihood, like many people who have to let hurtful words and actions slide.
Jada Pinkett Smith flinched when Chris Rock told an off-color joke at her expense during Sunday night’s Oscars.
“Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it,” Rock said, suggesting that Smith’s chic baldy made her look like Demi Moore in the 1997 film.
Pinkett Smith revealed in 2018 she suffers with alopecia, an autoimmune disease that has caused her to lose her hair, which has been emotionally painful. Last summer Pinkett Smith, with the help of her daughter, Willow, shaved all her hair. “It was time to let go,” Pinkett Smith wrote in an Instagram post.
» READ MORE: Ayanna Pressley announced she had alopecia, and bald women everywhere exhaled | Elizabeth Wellington
This year’s Academy Awards marked Pinkett Smith’s first major appearance without hair. And it was a big one as her husband was up for the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Venus and Serena Williams’ father in the film, King Richard.
I’m sure as Pinkett Smith got dressed in her amazing emerald green Jean Paul Gaultier and Glenn Martens of Diesel and Y Project ruched gown, there was a lot of fretting about the Oscars red carpet. Pinkett Smith has said on her streaming series Red Table Talk and on Instagram that she has always been vain about having hair. How would people receive her? Could she be stunning with a bald head?
For the record, she was.
It doesn’t help that there is a history of bad jokes from Rock about Pinkett Smith.
During his 2016 opening Academy Awards monologue, Rock made fun of Pinkett Smith for boycotting the Oscars because of the “Oscars so white,” turmoil. “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited,” Rock said.
Rock seems to enjoy hitting Black women below the belt.
In his 2009 documentary Good Hair, Rock spent the entire film making jokes about Black women’s hair. He said Black women who wore weaves and other protective hair styles practiced deception, and chastised them for spending thousands of dollars trying to fit into society that values long, straight hair. The movie was supposed to be educational, but read as mean-spirited.
Smith knew how stressed out his wife probably felt about her return to the Oscars. And Smith also knew that any time a Black man refers to a Black woman’s baldness, he’s being nasty. There are very few Black women who find that reference to Demi Moore endearing. Smith also told us in his autobiography, Will, that he watched helplessly as his now-deceased father beat his mother bloody when he was just 9 years old. From that moment on, he said he would protect the women he loved.
So after he saw Pinkett Smith cringe at Rock’s joke, Smith strolled on stage and slapped the taste out of Rock’s mouth.
“Keep my wife’s name out of your f— mouth,” Smith yelled after he returned to his seat.
“Wow, dude,” Rock said, trying to save face. “It was a G.I. Jane joke.”
Clearly, Smith didn’t find this funny. Smith decided his wife’s mental health was more important than tolerating an insult, and he was going to show Rock — and the rest of America — that he wasn’t having it.
Should Smith have hit Rock? No. But I get why he did.
I believe Smith knew Rock’s senseless comments had the power to undo all of Pinkett Smith’s work to get herself to a place here she could walk the red carpet without a wig, as her whole self. Smith wasn’t worried about his life or livelihood like so many Black men face with choosing between protecting their loved ones or letting hurtful words or actions slide.
Minutes later Smith won the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Richard Williams, a man who was berated by elite tennis coaches for supporting his daughters and was beat up by gang members for trying to protect his girls from their crude advances. In his teary-eyed acceptance speech, Smith apologized to the Academy. He also said he considers himself a protector of women, particularly Black women.
“Making this film, I got to protect Aunjanue Ellis, who is one of the strongest, most delicate people I’ve ever met,” Smith said, his voice cracking. “I got to protect Saniyya [Sidney] and Demi [Singleton], two actresses that played Venus and Serena. I’m being called on in my life to love people and protect people and to be a river to my people.”
Smith also said in his acceptance speech that “in this business you have to be able to have people disrespecting you, and you have to be able to smile and pretend like that’s OK.”
» READ MORE: Will Smith wins best actor Oscar for ‘King Richard’ after confrontation with Chris Rock
As Smith continued, he said art was imitating life, and he looked like “that crazy father Richard Williams.”
I admire him for being vulnerable and transparent. Smith deserves respect for his willingness to put his business out there, and for his attempts to grow and change and learn from mistakes. We should not be finding fault in that.
But I’m certain that Rock — and everybody else — will keep Pinkett Smith’s name out of their mouths.