What Chris Rock Said Backstage After the Will Smith Slap, According to Reports
People who were backstage at the Oscars say that this was the comedian's response.
It was a moment that will live down in Academy Awards infamy: Moments after presenter Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's hair, Best Actor nominee Will Smith—soon to be Best Actor winner—walked onto the stage and slapped Rock. The shocking moment was captured live on ABC's broadcast, leaving viewers reeling. And before they could catch their breath, Smith had returned to the stage for a tearful acceptance speech and apology. But what was going on behind-the-scenes? Reports are emerging from backstage at the Oscars, and they offer new insight into the slap and its aftermath. Read on to learn what Chris Rock reportedly said after getting hit.
Attendees and viewers were shocked when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock.
It all could have been avoided if Rock hadn't made one ad-libbed joke: While presenting the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Rock said Pinkett Smith's bald head made it look like she was filming G.I. Jane 2. According to a Variety report, the joke was not originally in the script. And while it may have seemed innocuous at the time, Pinkett Smith has spoken openly about her struggle with alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss, as CNN reports.
Smith approached the stage and slapped Rock, then returned to his seat and cursed at the visibly stunned presenter to "Keep my wife's name out your [expletive] mouth!" People reports that Smith was also still angry about a joke Rock made at Pinkett Smith's expense back in 2016. Then hosting the Oscars, Rock said that Pinkett Smith couldn't boycott the Oscars, because she hadn't been invited.
Oscars producers scrambled to keep the live show going after the altercation.
In an interview with Variety, ABC's Rob Mills recalled the moment it became clear to Oscars producers that the incident was serious. "You started to realize this is real once Chris, who certainly knows the limits of broadcast standards, said, 'Will Smith slapped the [expletive] out of me,'" he recalled. "That's when it became obvious that this was not a joke."
In the control room, Mills said that the decision was made to keep the show going, noting that they would have stopped to assess the situation if the slap had happened during a pre-taped segment and not the live broadcast. "You have to remember you've got a show to do," he told Variety. "Obviously, this was something that was unfortunate, but it was not to a degree that you think, 'OK, we need to just stop the entire show.' And the show just kind of went on."
Rock reportedly made a joke about the incident backstage.
Vanity Fair journalist Anthony Breznican was reporting on the Academy Awards from the event. He said that there was confusion at the time over whether or not the slap was real, but that it quickly became apparent that it was. Vanity Fair's Rebecca Ford said that some nominees knew that Smith had actually hit Rock because, "The slap was so loud to them it sounded like a sound effect."
Immediately after the slap and the awkward exchange, Denzel Washington and Smith's publicist could be seen approaching the actor. But neither viewers nor attendees could see what was happening backstage. In the Vanity Fair write-up, Breznican said he was told by someone backstage that Rock had a "visibly red cheek." He also had one more joke to offer. According to another witness, the comedian said, "That's the only time you get hit by Muhammad Ali and it doesn't leave a scratch." Smith played the legendary boxer—and earned an Oscar nomination—in the 2001 film Ali.
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Smith apologized to the Academy in an emotional speech.
Smith's performance as Venus and Serena Williams' father Richard Williams in King Richard made him the frontrunner in the Best Actor race, so it was no surprise when his name was called. There was, however, plenty of uncertainty about what he would say onstage. In a long, tearful speech, Smith seemed to both defend his actions and apologize.
"I'm being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people," he said (via USA Today). "I know to do what we do, you've got to be able to take abuse, you've got to be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business you've got to be able to have people disrespecting you. And you gotta smile and you've got to pretend like that's OK."
Smith went on to apologize to the Academy and his fellow nominees, but he did not extend an apology to Rock. However, Sean "Diddy" Combs told Page Six that Smith and Rock resolved their differences later in the night. "That's over. I can confirm that," Diddy told the outlet. "It's all love. They're brothers."