Oscars 2022 night: Will Smith’s slap and the other controversies that set social media buzzing

The actor’s shocking reaction to a joke about his wife at the Academy Awards saw the internet flooded with hot takes and reactions, but there were other incidents that also got people tweeting

A tearful Will Smith is seen on a screen as he accepts his award for Best Actor.Photo: JAY L. CLENDENIN (GETTY) | Video: EPV

The 94th edition of the Academy Awards were set to be the return to normality, after the coronavirus pandemic inevitably tainted the 2021 ceremony. But the shock and discomfort caused by Will Smith, when he slapped comedian Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife, will pass into history. The incident immediately prompted a reaction on social media, and shifted the conversation away from the expected topics of conversation, such as diversity and the unexpected victory of CODA.

Just hours before, it appeared that nothing from the night would be as viral as the daring outfits of Kristen Stewart (nominated for Spencer), who was wearing some very tiny Chanel shorts, or Timothée Chalamet, who was sporting a Louis Vuitton suit with no shirt underneath.

“I’ve fainted, died and come back to life. Timothée Chalamet, the god to whom I pray every day #oscars.”

It didn’t take long, however, for the atmosphere to sour given the Academy’s decision to give out eight of the awards before the live show began, among them Film Editing, Original Score and Short Film (Animated). The latter category was won by Spaniard Alberto Mielgo, director of The Windshield Wiper. While many of the stars were still on the red carpet giving interviews, Oscars were being handed out inside, creating an unprecedented situation where the public was being informed of the winners by tweets from the journalists who were watching. Later, edited footage of these awards was inserted into the live broadcast.

“I wish I could have been there to see the prize awarded, but of course, I had to make way for the good-looking famous people.”

Celebrities such as Jessica Chastain (who was nominated for, and won, Best Actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye) and director Guillermo del Toro (director of Nightmare Alley, nominated for Best Picture), cut short their presence on the red carpet in order to support the professionals who were in the running for the sidelined categories. Del Toro went so far as to tweet out images of some of the prizewinners.

The live ceremony began with Beyoncé singing her song Be Alive – from the movie King Richard – on a tennis court in Compton, Los Angeles. Amy Schumer – the most bilious of the three main presenters, who included Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes – shook up the Dolby Theater with a monologue that poked fun at Leonardo DiCaprio and his concerns over climate change, as well as the age of his girlfriends. As it turned out, this was far from the most hurtful joke of the night.

Hall generated less enthusiasm with her joke about coronavirus tests, which involved patting down attractive men, such as Jason Momoa, or a comment about the relationship between Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith – although the latter didn’t end up as bad as it could have done, given what came later.

“Oscars: the queerest ceremony in history. Also Oscars: jokes with a women who’s thirsting for hot men.”

As in previous years, the Oscars sought to correct their historical tendency of almost exclusively celebrating white and normative figures in the industry, opting instead for more diversity. Ariana DeBose became the first openly gay woman of color to win an Academy Award, thanks to her role in West Side Story. Troy Kotsur, meanwhile, who took the Best Supporting Actor gong, was the first deaf man to win in that category. He was the protagonist of one of the more emotional moments of the night, offering his acceptance speech in sign language, to which the audience responded with their hands in the air, the sign for applause. Viewers also spotted the look on Rita Moreno’s face when DeBose took her prize. Moreno played the same role more than 50 years ago in the original film version of West Side Story.

Not all of the attempts by the Academy to offer a more-representative ceremony and reach a wider public went as planned. The #OscarsFanFavourite and #OscarsCheerMoment – known as the “Twitter Oscars” and widely considered as an excuse to give the box office hit of the year, Spider-Man: No Way Home an award – did not go to the web-slinger, but rather to director Zack Snyder thanks to a massive fan campaign. Snyder’s zombie movie Army of the Dead won the #OscarsFanFavorite category, while the “Flash Speed Force” scene from his director’s cut of Justice League took the #OscarsCheerMoment. This prompted some of the best memes from the night, given that few people have actually seen the movie or even remembered the sequence in question.

The unexpected symmetry between the victor of the night, CODA, and the Japanese winner of Best International Film, Drive My Car, both of which include sign language in their plots and narratives, was also reflected on the stage. After Troy Kotsur’s silent speech – his defense of opportunities for people with disabilities echoed the Chekhovian theme of “we have to live” at the end of the Japanese drama – Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s acceptance speech for Best International Feature was cut off by music 15 seconds after it began, and to add to the surreal scene he was accompanied by one of his actresses who was taking notes on a notepad. What’s more, thanks to Twitter, the public was able to see an image of the Drive My Car cake at the Drive My Car watch party – a concept that none of us knew we needed until now.

It was at 7.30pm local time in Los Angeles when all hell broke loose at the ceremony, after Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia. Smith, who initially laughed as his wife rolled her eyes, got up on the stage and slapped Rock on live television, in front of millions of viewers all over the world. That was the moment when the Academy Awards became a global topic of conversation on social media.

Minutes later, Will Smith was back up on the stage, this time to collect his Best Actor Oscar for his role in King Richard. He made a tearful and erratic speech, with references to God and the way in which He works through him. It all served to exacerbate the sensation of a strange event, that couldn’t even be saved by reuniting the cast of Pulp Fiction.

“Will Smith arriving at the police station after the #Oscars.”

(To explain the above tweet, Will Smith and Chris Rock provided the voices for the above characters in Dreamworks movies.)

Nicole Kidman’s reaction to the slap also immediately went viral, for obvious reasons.

Other Twitter users pointed to the irony of there being a tasteless joke and an assault on the stage, just before Jane Campion won the Best Directing award for The Power of the Dog, which critiques the toxicity of old male values.

Fortunately for the Academy, actor and activist Sean Penn did not go through with his threat to record himself melting down his two Oscar statuettes in protest at the organizers’ refusal to connect live with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, as he was demanding. It would have been an inflammatory gesture for the institution, but given the image crisis that it is now facing, who knows if it would have added more fuel to the fire, or provided something of a welcome distraction.

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