The 94th Academy Awards have been over for two weeks, yet Will Smith’s slapping host Chris Rock remains one of the top news stories. It is proof of this story’s penetration that the controversial Oscars moment has remained at the top of the headlines amid news of an ongoing pandemic, war in Ukraine, national inflation, numerous contentious political issues, and the appointment of a controversial Supreme Court Justice. Every day, there has been a new celebrity statement, conspiracy theory, expert opinion, or update about the aftermath to keep the story alive.
Amid all the conjecture, the only concrete steps taken since the infamous event have been Will Smith’s resignation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) on April 1 and his subsequent ban from the Academy for ten years, which was announced on April 8. Perhaps that decision will mean the end of the news flurry for a while, but the media will inevitably continue obsessing over Will Smith’s upcoming projects, social life, and family matters in the weeks and months to come. It may not be good press, but the publicity arising from sparking one of the most memorable events in Oscars history has made Smith one of today’s most discussed celebrities.
When he ironically won Best Actor shortly after the slap, Will Smith excused his violent outburst by stating in his acceptance speech, “Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said. I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things.”
However, the real Richard Williams was reluctant to accept responsibility for inspiring Smith’s action, stating on March 29, “We don’t know all the details of what happened, but we don’t condone anyone hitting anyone else unless it’s in self-defense.” Whether it was staged or not, I think this was not a case of art imitating life but life imitating art. What does “the slap heard round the world” reveal about the influence movies have on people, including those within the film industry itself?
The Academy’s first official reaction to the incident was to write on Twitter at 10:10 that night, “The Academy does not condone violence of any form.” Twitter users were quick to point out the hypocrisy of this statement, since Will Smith was not only allowed to remain in the theater for the rest of the event but was given the top award after committing what could legally be considered assault.
Aside from the response (or lack thereof) to this case, consider what AMPAS’s statement really means. The organizers of Hollywood’s foremost awards show firmly declared that it is against violence—of any form. Whoever worded this statement should have weighed his words more carefully, because this tweet’s full meaning reveals a conflicted viewpoint.
The Academy claims to be against violence, yet half of the ten nominees for Best Picture this year were rated PG-13 or R for violence. This isn’t just a little violence, mind you. This is violence which the Classification and Rating Administration describes as “strong/bloody violence.” Look at the rest of the nominations, and the list of violent films grows longer.
Violence in film is neither a recent trend, nor is it limited to award-winning films. According to a 2005 study by the Media Education Foundation, the average child would witness 200,000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders by the time he was eighteen, and this was before the widespread use of the internet on mobile phones!
A 2014 study on gun violence in media found that, in the thirty years after the PG-13 rating’s introduction, the amount of violence in the top PG-13 movies had tripled. Out of 2021’s twenty highest-grossing films, nineteen featured warnings against violence of some kind.
Any criticism of the rampant violence in entertainment is met with impassioned defenses of free speech, artistic choice, and freedom of expression from within the film industry. However, it seems that the people who are responsible for splattering brutal, graphic murders s across the screen are shocked by seeing one man slap another. He didn’t even punch him, which is how one would expect an enraged man to defend his wife.
Instead of giving a traditional acceptance speech, Mr. Smith recognized his Oscar win by talking about defending his family and protecting people, just like the role which won him the award. His speech has been called an emotional rant, but it was really just an explanation of what happens when an actor gets too deeply connected to his character.
Will Smith is the sixth person ever to be banned by AMPAS. Carmine Caridi was expelled in 2004 for pirating videos intended only for voters, but the other five men were permanently barred from attending any Academy events because of sexual harassment scandals. Slapping a fellow celebrity doesn’t begin to compare with the despicability of the crimes the previous men committed, apparently including piracy, since the Academy is giving Will the possibility of reforming in a decade. After all, four of the previous perpetrators were guilty of the crimes exposed in the #MeToo movement, the biggest scandal to hit Hollywood in years.
The Academy doesn’t condone violence, yet they applaud and reward movies which are deemed too violent to be seen by minors without parental consent. The Academy also doesn’t condone sexual harassment, yet amorous immorality, including violence and abuse, is just as common in film as action violence, if not more so. These actions are often performed by protagonists, including sympathetic characters, and there is rarely punishment or retaliation. Thus, the film industry has been spreading the message for years, through its products, that flagrant immorality and violence are acceptable behavior. However, all its very outspoken members act shocked and horrified when a fellow member tries one of these actions offscreen.
I think the people who get caught and reprimanded for bad behavior are just as shocked as their colleagues are, or as they pretend to be. They may act like they realize what they did was wrong and are sorry, but they are probably just sorry they got in trouble. They apologize when they realize they must, but that doesn’t change their original feeling of entitlement to do whatever it was they did. Deep down, they are surprised to realize that Hollywood and society at large still aspire to having standards. Countless films show atrocities being committed with no negative consequences. If anything goes in the movies, why is it any different in real life?
A Ship without a Rudder
There has been some degree of violence in movies since the film industry’s beginning. However, from 1934 to 1954, it was carefully regulated by the Production Code Administration (PCA), an official Hollywood organization which enforced the Motion Picture Production Code. The PCA ensured that violence was discreet, minimal, and inoffensive. Any immoral amorous behavior included in film plots was never more than suggested, and it could never be glamorized or undermine the institution of marriage.
Basically, the Code did not forbid the inclusion of evil, crime, or wrongdoing in films, but it required that it be punished. The main principle of the Code was that, at all times, the audience must feel that “evil is wrong and good is right.” The principles of right living carried over into real life, since Hollywood folks knew they must follow certain moral guidelines. Although many Old Hollywood celebrities are now known to have had immoral personal lives, they were careful to keep their unscrupulous behavior out of the news, since publicized indiscretions weren’t tolerated by the public.
In contrast, modern-day celebrities are bold and unapologetic as they mimic the uncivilized behavior promoted in movies. Will Smith couldn’t have expressed his feelings more plainly in his Oscar-acceptance speech, which began, “Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family.” He boldly justified his behavior by comparing himself repeatedly to his character, a man he said defended his family because of his love for them. If the character did it in a movie, it’s the right thing to do in real life.
It’s clear from the footage of the slap that the assault, if it can be called that, was not done in a moment of hot-blooded rage. Will Smith, initially amused by Chris Rock’s joke, realized that his wife was offended. Thus, he calmly decided to defend his family, much like “King” Richard Williams, with an impressive show of heroism. If anything, the theatrical move would generate good publicity for him.
He didn’t apologize as many thought he should have during his acceptance speech because he believed he had done nothing wrong. He had committed an act of violence, just like in the movies, and he had shouted profanities, an even more common occurrence in film. Little did he realize that the behavior which wins actors Oscars onscreen can earn them ten-year bans offscreen.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.