By Julie Samrick
When I was a child watching the Oscars wasn’t just an annual event, but a holiday in our household. My three sisters, our mom and I marveled at our screen heroes and heroines in their dazzling award show ensembles, their heads held high. It was a night to escape into stories, to hear inspiring words from the likes of Sally Field, Robert Redford and Katharine Hepburn, legends to my young self.
As an adult much of that awards show mystique is gone and what happened at the 94th Academy Awards last month all but stamped it out. First, the stars aren’t mythical people to me anymore because I remember when many of today’s A-listers got their starts. I watched Jennifer Lopez as a Fly Girl on “In Living Color” and Tom Hanks as a lovable, funny guy on “Bosom Buddies.” Will Smith first came on the scene as a teenager in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” I loved watching him grow up and take on more serious roles as his acting career skyrocketed, especially when he played the titular role in “Ali” or when he was a homeless, single father alongside his real-life son, Jaden Smith, in “The Pursuit of Happyness.”
When I watched Smith walk onstage at the 94th Academy Awards recently to slap presenter Chris Rock after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith, I still sided with Smith, that is until the shock wore off. At first, I sympathized with him because there have been snide remarks and rumors made during his 25-year marriage to Jada, one of the longest lasting unions in Hollywood. Who are we to say what happens behind closed doors or what the truth of their marriage is? Plus, Jada has been vocal about her struggle with alopecia and apparently Smith and Rock had prior beef in the years leading up to the slap.
In that moment, when Rock made the joke about Jada looking like G.I. Jane, the cameras even showed Smith with that amiable, laughing face we’ve known for 30 years, but he quickly reminded us he is not that one-dimensional character — just as no human being is. Smith explained as much in his Best Actor speech, which incredibly was only minutes later. He won for his portrayal of Venus and Serena Williams’ father in “King Richard.” Smith was crying during his speech, not from “winning an award,” he explained, but because he’d had enough. He spoke about how he has grown to emulate Richard Williams as “a fierce defender of his family,” adding, “I know to do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse and you gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you and you gotta smile and you gotta pretend like that’s OK.”
Then Smith shared what Denzel Washington told him after the slap to counsel him. “At your highest moment, be careful,” Smith echoed. “That’s when the devil comes for you.”
What is the highest moment in this case, I wondered, and who is the devil? Was it Smith’s hottest moment? Was it when he was fed up, probably stressed out and wanted to protect his wife? If he looked back and did nothing it could have been a personal shame and so he acted out the daydream many of us only imagine doing after someone’s wronged us. This is where Smith gave in, because the devil is in whether we act or not on our negative impulses. Hubris, or excessive, arrogant pride is humankind’s greatest pitfall and Smith succumbed to it. Should he be canceled for the rest of his life for this mistake? No, though it is unfortunate he didn’t give a thumbs down during Rock’s remarks and/or said something to him afterward instead of resorting to violence.
Sadly, decorum is gone in many aspects of society today, and now it’s true even for what used to be the classiest night on television.
Julie Samrick is an El Dorado Hills mother, writer and teacher. Connect with her at facebook.com/juliesamrickauthor.