Will Smith vs. Chris Rock at the Oscars: Was Either Right, Or Should Both Be Condemned? (PODCAST)

Variety’s Clayton Davis has seen a lot of things. But nothing prepared him for being in the audience at Sunday’s Oscars, and witnessing Will Smith leap on stage and smack Chris Rock — and the awkward aftermath inside the Dolby Theater.

“It’s the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in my life,” Davis says on this week’s special Oscars Recap edition of the Variety Awards Circuit Podcast. “And I grew up in the Bronx, where fights happen all the time! I was squirming in my chair, like, I couldn’t function. I couldn’t pay attention to anything. And then it was all pins and needles until Will won.”

Davis joined Awards Circuit Podcast hosts Jenelle Riley, Jazz Tangcay and Michael Schneider for a mega edition of their weekly roundtable segment — and obviously there was plenty to chew on. The group talks about the fallout from the Slap, the industry reaction, and what’s next. Oh, and they also get around to actually discussing the winners and losers on stage, including the historic best picture win for “CODA.” Listen below!

“For my first Oscar ceremony, I went to some Academy people and said, Listen, this is my first Oscars. I like to thank you for making this obviously the most memorable one that I could ever have,” Davis quips.

The roundtable recounts the moment as it happened, and the confusion at first: Was this a bit? “I watched it like 10 times,” Riley says. “I rewound it like the Zapruder film we were we were trying to figure it all out. Chris Rock, I mean, obviously has probably had to deal with his share of hecklers doing stand up, but I doubt anything like this has ever happened in front of a global audience.”

Says Schneider: “Because the slap looked staged the way Chris Rock reacted with his sharp move, it almost seemed like an acted out. And so for those of us here watching at home, everything was bleeped out. It took a long time.”

Tangcay feels bad for Questlove, who actually won the documentary prize that Rock was awarding — not that anyone remembers. “I just feel so sorry for Questlove because that was such a great moment,” she said. “And it rippled through into the press room, because nobody wants to talk about anything after that. Quest comes in. He’s the first one there. And it’s like, this guy just won an Oscar. And the first question he was asked is what just happened?”

Davis says the immediate reaction that evening was different at first. “The feeling is that we’re going to be divided for all time. There will never be a consensus on who’s in the wrong because what the consensus was in the room was either, ‘Will is a jerk’ or, ‘I wish he didn’t do it. But Chris totally deserved it.’ Someone said, ‘I wish he had either cursed from his chair or slapped him and then just sat down and didn’t say anything. You couldn’t have both.’”

Davis adds that he was surprised that Rock was able to move on after the incident: “I was shocked that he was able to stand on his feet. I don’t know how I would have reacted if someone slapped me. But I don’t think I could just like take the hit and walk away from it.”

Schneider things Smith’s acceptance speech made it worse: “It made me feel really bad once again for the Williams sisters, who, let’s face it, this was a shitty Oscar season for them. They didn’t ask for this or for the Jane Campion thing to happen.”

Says Davis: “A lot of people feel like Will was redeemed in the [acceptance speech] moment in terms of it wasn’t like completely tarnished, but it did nothing for what would happen the next day… I think if he had apologized to Chris in his speech, even though we all would have known it wasn’t real, he was just like saying it to say it, I think it would have done him a good amount of service.”

Schneider thinks both Smith and Rock did not handle themselves well that night. The slap was wrong — but Rock’s joke was distasteful. “To make a ‘GI Jane’ joke in 2022, that’s hacky, that’s bad a joke to begin with,” he says. “And then, as a lot of people have pointed out, Chris Rock has produced a film about Black hair and to then just go and make a crack about a Black woman’s hair, what are you doing? It’s kind of a pox on both their houses to some degree. I think they both need to look in the mirror today.”

Adds Riley: “Not to be too Pollyanna about it, but I just hope everyone’s OK. I hope Will is OK. And I hope Chris is OK.”

Variety Awards Circuit podcast is hosted by Clayton Davis, Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Jenelle Riley and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in movies. Michael Schneider is the producer and Drew Griffith edits. Each week, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every week.

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