The infamous slap of 2022, the moment Will Smith walked up on stage at the Oscars to slap Chris Rock can hardly have gone by unnoticed by anyone. The moment left most of us confused as to what happened and even with Will Smiths tearful speech later on, there were still questions regarding what went through Smiths mind at the moment of the slap. It seems though that The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have decided that whatever went through Will Smiths mind, it was a crime that deserved a 10 year long ban, something that many Academy members have objected to but many also feel is too mild of a punishment. It’s safe to say that by slapping Chris Rock, Smith really opened up the doors to be scrutinized in a way he has never been before.
However, there is an important issue here that is not being addressed. That is, if a slap deserves a 10 year ban, how many years does racism deserve?
The Oscars are known to have just recently started to open up the nominations and award wins for minorities. For most of the time the Oscars have mostly been an award show for the white people in the industry, something #OscarsSoWhite not only raised but also have helped force The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to start to resolve. From discriminating great talents for years without being called on it, in 2016 The Oscars were finally getting the heat they should’ve gotten a long time ago. Many news outlets reported specifically on the race issues globally, only then forcing The Academy to change their values. In 2016 they promised to double the number of women and people of colour in its membership by 2020. Because of this, we have seen Oscars being won by minorities, and we can only wonder if Will Smith would have won an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in King Richard had it not been for #OscarsSoWhite.
Having met their membership goal of doubling the number of women and people of colour by 2020, The Academy made a further pledge that from their 2025 awards and onwards films will only be eligible if they meet two of four self-created diversity “standards” which variously require women, racial and ethnic groups, LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities to be represented in some form in front of or behind the camera. The pledge is positive for many of the underrepresented talents in the movie industry, but it also means that in 2022, no matter how advanced we are as a human race, there are many important aspects where we are not advanced at all.
So going back to the infamous slap, if Will Smith deserves to be banned for 10 years for slapping Chris Rock, what does The Oscars deserve for all of the years of discrimination and racism?
The fact of the matter is, though violence should never be condoned, people of color are far too often forced to be accountable for their actions while structural racism often goes unseen by the ones that benefit from it. So when speaking of punishment and consequences for Will Smiths behavior, it is equally as important to talk about consequences for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as well for hindering the careers of many talented people of color in the movie industry. If it is enough for The Academy to pledge to change their values after years of structural racism, shouldn’t it have been just as enough with Will Smiths apology during his acceptance speech at the 2022 Oscars?
Surely, The Academy should have some self-insight to see the bigger picture, a black man winning his very first Oscar, seven years after the Oscars were accused of being too white, is now being banned for an act that although being physically violent, it doesn’t have the same effects as racism within such an enormous organization has. And so either the Oscars are long overdue on receiving their punishment, or Will Smith deserves the same second chances as the they have gotten throughout the years.