There’s no doubt the most talked-about Oscars moment was when Will Smith climbed up on stage to slap presenter Chris Rock after Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shorn head.
Smith stunned the Dolby Theater crowd and viewers at home when he took the stage during Rock’s remarks after the comedian made a joke about Pinkett Smith, Smith’s wife.
Rock said, “Jada, I love you. ‘GI Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it.”
The joke touched a nerve, and following the slap, with Smith back in his seat, he twice shouted for Rock to “get my wife’s name out your f—ing mouth.” His words echoed clearly throughout the Dolby, though ABC cut the audio for about 15 seconds.
Within an hour, Smith won best actor. During his acceptance speech, Smith apologized to the Academy.
But the joke, no matter how it was intended, or received, was based on Pinkett Smith’s alopecia diagnosis and many are crying foul at Rock for taking aim at a woman for a disease she can’t control.
Pinkett Smith disclosed four years ago that she has alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that often causes hair loss as the body’s immune system attacks hair follicles on the scalp and face. There are different forms of alopecia, but the form Pinkett Smith has often causes patches of baldness on the scalp, as opposed to total baldness.
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According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, approximately 40 per cent of women will be affected by some form of alopecia or hair thinning in their lifetime. And a peer-reviewed study published in 2018 found that Black women have a “significantly greater” chance of developing alopecia areata in their lifetime than white women.
And while there has been plenty of discourse and division around the Rock-Smith encounter, there has been an outpouring of support for Pinkett Smith.
Pinkett Smith has often spoken about her struggles with alopecia since she first revealed her diagnosis in 2018.
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“A lot of people have been asking why I’ve been wearing turbans,” Pinkett Smith said in a 2018 episode of her Facebook talk show, Red Table Talk. “Well, I haven’t talked about it. It’s not easy to talk about, but I am going to talk about it.”
She recalled the “terrifying” moment when she first noticed she was losing “handfuls of hair” in the shower.
“I was just like, ‘Oh my god, am I going bald?’” Pinkett Smith said.
“It was one of those times in my life where I was literally shaking with fear,” she shared. “That’s why I cut my hair and continue to cut it.”
Smith has shown his support for his wife and her hair loss over the years. In 2018 he posted a video showing off her shorter hairstyle she had cut when she began losing lots of hair.
“I love her new cut, I had to show y’all,” he captioned the video.
Pinkett Smith has more recently addressed her condition, too.
In an Instagram post last December, she said she was going to have her hair taken “down to the scalp so nobody thinks (I) got brain surgery or something,” while showing off a new area of hair loss that was going to be “ more difficult to hide.”
“Me and this alopecia are going to be friends … period!” she captioned the video.
It’s unclear if Rock knew about Pinkett Smith’s condition when he make the joke during Sunday night’s ceremony, but plenty of people said he should have known better, especially considering how the comedian produced, co-wrote, and narrated a documentary about Black women’s sometimes- fraught relationship with their hair.
According to an official synopsis, good hair follows Rock, 57, as he “visits beauty salons and hairstyling battles, scientific laboratories and Indian temples to explore the way hairstyles impact the activities, pocketbooks, sexual relationships and self-esteem of the Black community in this exposé of comic proportions that only he could pull off.”
The Los Angeles Police Department has released a statement about the televised slap, sharing that Rock had not pressed charges.
“LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” a representative for the LAPD said.
“The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”
— with files from The Associated Press
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