Best actor winner Will Smith took offence at a joke by presenter Chris Rock

Will Smith slapped Chris Rock in the face on stage at the Oscars after the comic made a joke about the actor’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith.

“Jada, can’t wait for GI Jane 2,” he said, in an apparent reference to her shaved hairdo – which is a result of the hair loss condition alopecia.

Smith walked on stage and struck Rock before returning to his seat and shouting: “Keep my wife’s name out of your [expletive] mouth.”

He later apologised on stage.

“I want to apologise to the Academy. I want to apologise to my all my fellow nominees,” he said during a tearful acceptance speech for best actor.

The star picked up the first Oscar of his career for playing the father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams in King Richard.

“Art imitates life,” he said. “I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things.”

Rock’s joke referred to 1997 film GI Jane, in which Demi Moore played the title role with a severe buzzcut.

The comedian looked stunned in the immediate aftermath of the incident, but told the audience: “That was the greatest night in the history of television.”

The Los Angeles Police Department later told Variety that Rock had “declined to file a police report” following the event.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith later attended the Vanity Fair Oscar party with their children

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which organises the Oscars, tweeted that it “does not condone violence of any form”.

After the incident, Rock handed over the best documentary prize, which was the reason he was on stage.

According to The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg, a tearful Smith needed to be “pulled aside and comforted” by Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry shortly after the incident.

The trio could be seen talking just in front of the stage during an advert break, with Washington and Perry putting their hands on his shoulders.

Presenting the next section, Sean “Diddy” Combs said: “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve that like family. Right now we’re moving on with love.”

Denzel Washington, Will Smith and Tyler Perry

Smith later attended the Vanity Fair Oscar party with sons Trey and Jaden, daughter Willow and his wife – smiling photographers and posing with his award on the red carpet.

Other guests at the party reacted to the incident, with filmmaker David Furnish saying he tells his sons with Elton John “don’t hit anybody… under any circumstance”.

But actress and comedian Tiffany Haddish defended Smith, saying he had been standing up for his wife.

 

Here in the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, there was a shocked reaction from journalists.

 

Reporters had been taking part in the traditional backstage press conference, but attention suddenly turned to the overhead screens and what was going on at the ceremony.

 

At first, it had seemed like some kind of set-up. Smith even appeared to laugh at first after Rock delivered his line about his wife looking like GI Jane.

 

Jada looked annoyed, but at this point it was still assumed this was all part of some kind of pre-planned routine.

 

Doubt began to creep in when Smith rose from his seat and hit Rock on the stage. Of course, these guys are veterans of film and television, and would know how to carry out a fake stage slap. Except, everyone was starting to think, it didn’t look that fake.

 

By the time Smith was sitting back in his seat and shouting to Rock to “keep my wife’s name out your [expletive] mouth”, it was clear this was no sketch. A professional like Smith would know better than to drop the F-bomb on stage during a live TV broadcast.

 

Much like previous Oscars that were defined by their viral moments – such as Ellen’s group selfie or the best picture winner mix-up in 2017 – this will now forever be the Oscars where Will Smith punched Chris Rock.

Pinkett Smith first talked about her hair loss struggle in an episode of her Facebook chat show, Red Table Talk, back in 2018.

She said: “I’ve been having issues with hair loss. And it was terrifying when it first started.”

It was not the first time Rock has made a joke about Pinkett Smith at the Academy Awards. He hosted the 2016 event, when she was among the stars who boycotted the ceremony due to a lack of diversity in the nominations.

That year, he said: “Jada Pinkett Smith boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties – I wasn’t invited!”

Other winners at Sunday’s ceremony included Jessica Chastain, who picked up best actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye; Jane Campion, who won best director for The Power of the Dog; and Apple TV film Coda, which was named best picture.

Best supporting actress went to Ariana DeBose for West Side Story, while Troy Kotsur won best supporting actor for Coda, which also picked up best adapted screenplay.

Sci-fi epic Dune won six awards in total including technical categories for best visual effects and best cinematography.

Smith became tearful during his acceptance speech

Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family. In this time in my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world. Making this film, I got to protect Aunjanue Ellis, who is one of the most strongest, most delicate people I’ve ever met. I got to protect Saniyya [Sidney] and Demi [Singleton], the two actresses who played Venus and Serena.

I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know, to do what we do, you’ve got to be able to take abuse. You 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’ve got to smile, you’ve got to pretend like that’s OK. What I loved was, Denzel [Washington] said to me a few moments ago, he said, ‘At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.’

I want to be a vessel for love. I want to say thank you to Venus and Serena and the entire Williams family for entrusting me with your story. That’s what I want to do. I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern.

I want to apologise to the Academy. I want to apologise to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment and I’m not crying for winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me. It’s about being able to shine a light on all of the people – Tim [White, producer] and Trevor [White, producer] and Zach [Baylin, writer] and Saniyya and Demi and Aunjanue and the entire cast and crew of King Richard, and Venus and Serena, the entire Williams family.

Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things.

And my mother… a lot in this moment is really complicated for me but to my mother, she didn’t want to come out. She’s had her knitting crew who she’s in Philly watching with. Being able to love and care for my mother, my family, my wife… I’m taking up too much time… Thank you for this honour. Thank you for this moment and thank you on behalf of Richard and Oracene and the entire Williams family. Thank you. I hope the Academy invites me back. Thank you.•

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