Are You Defending Will Smith Because He Was Right or Because He’s Not White?
“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.” — Richard Williams, to NBC News, via his son Chavoita LeSane.
By all accounts, including Will Smith’s, the rapper-turned-TV star-turned-actor-turned-thespian moved mountains attempting to capture the essence of Richard Williams, father of tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams, in King Richard. The result: a meticulously detailed Oscar-winning performance, the fifth for a leading Black male in the history of the Academy Awards.
Unfortunately, the historic Best Actor Oscar triumph by the guy who began his career as The Fresh Prince may forever be remembered as a foot note to the slap seen and heard around the world. For those who still haven’t seen or heard it (where’ve you been?), I’m talking about the smack he delivered to Chris Rock’s left cheek several categories earlier, after the comedian, onstage to present Best Documentary Feature, made a bad joke about the buzzed haircut of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who has alopecia.
Smith devoted painstaking attention to mastering Richard Williams’ motivations, his strengths, his weaknesses, his dedication, and his demons while prepping for what will likely go down as his career-defining role. But during his most pivotal Oscar moment (right before he walked onto the stage uninvited), he neglected to ask himself a critical question: What would Richard Williams — the version of him that Smith played in King Richard (or the one who made the statement above)— do?
If Smith had done that, he might have spared both himself and Rock a lot of embarrassment. He also would have spared the rest of us a latest wave of divided opinions and loyalties: Are you Team Will Smith or Team #NoHittingAtTheOscars?