At the annual Oscars ceremony on March 27, actor Will Smith shocked the world by slapping comedian Chris Rock across the face on live television after Rock made a comment about Smith’s wife.
Smith is setting an example of violence for young men, and should not be lauded for his aggression.
Since the slap, there has been much debate on who was in the right, with people taking to Twitter to post whether they’re #teamwillsmith or #teamchrisrock.
“Jada, I love you. I can’t wait for G.I. Jane 2,” Rock said to Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett, at the 2022 Oscars.
Rock’s comment, which mocked Pinkett’s alopecia, is what sparked Smith’s outburst and the viral debate. Twitter users that are #teamwillsmith argue that the joke warranted a smack, and Smith was in the right.
Between the 2022 Oscars’ 16.6 million viewers and the internet virality of the moment, Smith’s slap has become an influential moment in American culture. By reacting to Rock’s joke with physical violence, Smith is setting a poor example for those who look up to him.
Of Smith’s last 10 movies where he had a starring role, over half of them were action films with at least a PG-13 rating. The primary target audience for such films is males aged 16-25, according to the Independent Cinema Office. Therefore, Will Smith’s primary fan base is young males in their late teens and early 20s.
This same demographic accounted for 43% of all violent crime in the U.S. in 2020, according to the FBI’s Crime Database. As such, Smith’s fans have a significant crossover with those already vulnerable to committing violent crime.
By committing assault on national television, Smith sends the message that such behavior is acceptable, that you can be a powerful celebrity and hurt people and it’s OK.
In the eyes of the law, no speech warrants physical violence. Most violence is sparked by confrontation of some kind, that doesn’t make it excusable.
As a response to the slap, two of Smith’s upcoming projects, Sony’s “Bad Boys 4” and Netflix’s “Fast and Loose” have been put on the backburner.
Smith’s career shouldn’t end as a result of this mistake, but he needs to make it clear to his audience that it was not something to be proud of.
Much of his fan base is a demographic who most need the message of peace, not violence. Smith’s actions should not be lauded or even defended. Smith should take that into consideration, because whether he likes it or not, he is a role model for young men.