’90s Sitcom Star Speaks out Amid Calls for Will Smith to Give Back His Oscar

It’s been weeks since the 94th Academy Awards, but the Will Smith slap remains a hot topic. The King Richard winner had his punishment handed down this week, when he was banned from attending the ceremony for the next 10 years. But for some, that’s still not enough. Amid calls for Will Smith to return his Oscar, fellow ’90s sitcom star Sheryl Lee Ralph has spoken out to defend him.

Will Smith wears a suit and poses in front of the ‘Men In Black 3’ logo
Will Smith at an event | Foc Kan/FilmMagic

Some have called for Will Smith to return his Oscar

The moment, now dubbed “the slap heard around the world,” happened on March 27. Chris Rock was onstage when he made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s bald head, not seeming to realize that she shaved it due to alopecia. Alopecia is an autoimmune disorder that leads to a person’s hair coming out.

“Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it,” Rock joked, referring to Demi Moore’s 1997 war drama movie, in which she shaved her head.

While Smith was initially seen laughing along, his reaction changed after Pinkett Smith rolled her eyes and scowled at the comedian. Smith then got up and walked up to Rock, immediately striking him across the face.

“Keep my wife’s name out your f*cking mouth!” he yelled when he sat back down.

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As the backlash grew and grew, Smith resigned from the Academy.

He received greater punishment when it announced that he was also prohibited from attending the ceremony for the next decade. But in a column for Variety, actor Harry J. Lennix called for more. Specifically, for Smith to return his Oscar, which he won the same evening for his performance in King Richard.

“Smith needs to express-mail his golden trophy back to the Academy and publicly state something to the effect of: ‘Out of respect for the 94 years of honor conferred upon this award, I do not in good conscience feel worthy of being its custodian,'” Lennix wrote, echoing what many people have said on social media.

Sheryl Lee Ralph responded to the essay

Actor Sheryl Lee Ralph was one of many who weighed in on the column. She agreed on Twitter that Smith’s actions were “bad,” but also called for “compassion and empathy” for the actor.

“Are we trying to kill him?” she wrote. “This was very bad but it certainly is not the worst thing to happen at the Oscars! What happened to compassion and empathy? He is ruined.”

Ralph also said she was “worried about him” in response to a Twitter user wondering about his wellbeing.

While it doesn’t appear that she’s ever worked with Smith, they share the experience of leading popular ’90s sitcoms. Smith, of course, was on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, while Ralph appeared on Moesha, a show that starred Brandy as a teenager dealing with the joys and pains of high school.

Her comments on the actor come after similar messages from other people in Hollywood. This includes Smith’s Fresh Prince of Bel-Air co-star Tatyana Ali. Earlier in the month, she wrote on Twitter that Rock did not “deserve to be hit” while also saying she believed in Smith.

What has Chris Rock said about the slap?

For his part, Rock has been quieter. As Reuters notes, he said at a comedy show in the immediate days after the incident that he still hadn’t processed what had happened. He told the crowd that he would discuss it one day — but only for a fee.

“I’m not talking about that until I get paid,” Rock joked at another show on April 8, according to The Desert Sun. “Life is good. I got my hearing back.”

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