New York, NY – By now, the world has had its fill of all the news and social media commentary about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars, followed by Smith’s subsequent resignation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. This only means, however, that Smith will no longer be a voting member of the Academy. It doesn’t preclude the former “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” from being invited to other ceremonies or receiving future nominations.
It is clear the so-called “slap heard around the world” was the result of a bad or off-colored joke made at the expense of Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett-Smith. It is also clear that in spite of an act of violence, Smith was not removed from the ceremony. In the apologies that followed, Smith suggested he was just defending his wife.
Since the incident, however, other actors have begun speaking out about their experiences interacting with Smith. Paul Rodriguez, for instance, called Smith “verbally abusive.” It is important to note that celebrity actors and actresses live in a world where people are prioritized for their production value and financial success. Certainly, Smith or Pinkett-Smith are not the only names in Hollywood to draw attention to the abusive side of the movie business. Albeit sad, since the mainstream media is covering more about the slap than the actors who deserve the focus, let’s take a look at what happened and what the result would be if it occured in a truly unionized shop.
First and foremost, as a person who has been on various construction sites and worked with trades people, as well as someone who has acted as a liaison between managers and workers, in addition to being someone who has worn both blue and white collars — I have heard worse jokes told with far less menacing responses. It is also clear that any acts of violence or even threats of real violence on the job often leads to immediate termination. However, in the case of big earners, higher ups and other elites — there have been times when eyes have shut and heads have turned the other way.
Perhaps this is what troubles people the most about “the slap.” Anyone else who committed an act like this would be arrested. Or at minimum, terminated from their position. Meanwhile, a so-called “star” slaps a man in the face on national television and nothing happens. Would this exist in the real world? Or is this simply a case of the elite being untouchable and seeing themselves as entitled?
SAG-AFTRA, the union representing 160,000 media professionals, later released a statement saying “Violence or physical abuse in the workplace is never appropriate and the union condemns any such conduct.”
Elitism and the idea of being above the law is a detriment in any industry. Unfortunately, this problem occurs in all kinds of offices, boardrooms, classrooms, hospitals — virtually in any other workplace you can think of.
But whether the violence is physically or verbally abusive, behavior like this cannot go unaddressed. And as the saying goes, “Pride cometh before the fall.” Or in this case (as far as Smith is concerned), pride cometh before Netflix and Sony pause all of Smith’s upcoming projects.
Now imagine if Rock told his lame joke, the Oscars crowd said their “oohs and ahhs,” and the show went on in spite of the insult. The moment would have passed and loose egos would not have prevailed. By now, all would have been forgotten. The host and the people in attendance, as well as the millions of people around the world watching the broadcast, would be thinking about something else by now [perhaps the looming threat of nuclear war or rising income inequality]. Perhaps we would be talking about other actors and performers who graced the Oscars stage with their presence, such as a 76-year-old wheelchair-bound Liza Minelli.
As for Smith and others who behave this way, there comes a time in life when people have to face the consequences of their actions. As bystanders, it is important for us to pay attention and understand that violence is never okay.
Ain’t that right, SAG-AFTRA?
Ben Kimmel is a proud member of the IUOE Local 94, as well as an Author, Writer on thewrittenaddiction.com, Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Wellbeing and DEI Content Provider, Certified Addiction and Recovery Coach, Certified Professional Life Coach, and Peer & Wellness Advocate. Ben can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org