Will Smith Slapped Chris Rock and As Someone With Alopecia, I Get It

It was the slap that took on a life of its own. Actor Will Smith strutted up to the awards show stage last night and slapped actor and show presenter Chris Rock in the face after Rock joked about Smith’s wife, Jada’s, appearance. Specifically about her very cropped hair.

The jarring moment took place shortly before Smith won his first Oscar for his portrayal of Venus and Serena Williams‘ father in King Richard.

While Smith may have seemed erratic in his behavior, I saw it as the actions of a man protecting someone he loves who has gone through incredible distress and emotional pain.

Although the actor’s actions were not OK and the wrong way to handle the situation, as someone with alopecia, I understand Jada’s disappointment with the joke — and I understand why Smith felt the need to protect his loved one.

Chris Rock, left, after being slapped by Academy Award-winning actor Will Smith on the Oscars 2022 show stage.
Actor Will Smith, right, slaps Chris Rock on the Oscar Awards show stage | Myung Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Will Smith’s visceral reaction to Chris Rock’s comment

Rock was presenting on the Oscars stage when his attention landed on Jada Pinkett Smith, who was sporting a close-cropped look due to alopecia. As many Oscar presenters have done to actors in the past, Rock joked at Jada’s expense, saying, “Jada, I love you – I can’t wait for GI Jane 2,” referring to the 1997 film starring Demi Moore as a Navy Seal who, to show her dedication, shaves her head.

Jada’s facial expression at Rock’s comment seemed disgusted and slightly pained, rolling her eyes at his joke. Will’s reaction was instinctive, almost propelling him from his seat to the stage. For his part, Rock wasn’t sure if Will Smith was about to carry the joke further. Instead, he got a historic slap in the face.

Jada’s public comments on her experience with alopecia

In her “Red Table Talk” Facebook Watch show, Jada in 2018 opened up about her hair loss to alopecia. An autoimmune disorder, alopecia causes hair to fall out, at times in clumps.

“A lot of people have been asking about why I’ve been wearing turbans,” she said at the time. “Well, I haven’t talked about it. It’s not easy to talk about, but I am going to talk about it.

“It was terrifying when it first started. I was in the shower one day and then just handfuls of hair in my hands. And I was just like, ‘Oh my God, am I going bald?’ It was one of those times in my life when I was literally shaking with fear.”

She added, “My hair has been a big part of me,” she said. “Taking care of my hair has been a beautiful ritual — and having the choice to have hair or not. And then one day to be like, ‘Oh my God, I might not have that choice anymore … ’”

I understand Will Smith’s anger toward the situation

I’ve had alopecia for over 20 years. The first time I spotted alopecia’s calling card — a small, round patch of my exposed scalp, followed by another where my hair had been — I was, as Jada described, terrified, shaken. I felt unfeminine and even ugly, vulnerable and confused.

When I was diagnosed, I recall my dermatologist telling me I was just going to have to learn to live with the constant bald spots. There is no cure for alopecia, no matter how much money you throw at possible remedies.

Seeing Will Smith’s reaction made some sense: he’s probably seen his wife go through stages of disbelief, frustration, anger, distress, and even trauma throughout her hair loss. It leaves those around you feeling powerless to help, especially when the hair loss is extreme.

Smith’s slap was inappropriate, distracted from the nominees and winners, and was simply wrong. But one can understand what he might have been thinking. In his raw reaction, he could do something now, he could defend her. Especially after Rock’s past joke at Jada’s expense, perhaps Smith’s slap was anger that had built up and could no longer be contained.

I’ve learned to live with alopecia and like Jada, have put it in perspective. “People are out here who have cancer, people have sick children,” she said in that Red Table Talk episode. “And by golly, if the higher power wants to take your hair — that’s it? … When I looked at it from that perspective, it really did settle me.”

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