You probably remember the incident that’s now known as “the slap heard around the world.” Last year on March 27, Will Smith smacked Chris Rock across the face live onstage at the Oscars for making a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
“Keep my wife’s name out of your f–king mouth,” Smith shouted at Rock after sitting back down.
In an interview with Q‘s Tom Power about her gripping new memoir, Worthy, Pinkett Smith addresses the infamous slap and shares exactly what was going through her head at the time.
“First of all, I was really confused, because as I talk about in the book, Will and I hadn’t called each other husband and wife since 2016,” she tells Power. “I wasn’t there as his wife, even though the world didn’t know that, right? Because we hadn’t been together. And then I was like, ‘Oh, Will’s in trouble. Something’s not right. Something has gone really awry.’
“It was so out of character and I was at a loss. I didn’t know what was happening. And so I just had to really ground myself and just pay attention…. I was as confused as everybody else.”
Initially, Pinkett Smith thought the slap was a part of a skit.
“Will had been going back and forth backstage all night, and so when he first walked up, I said, ‘Oh, did he not tell me that he saw Chris and they’re doing this sketch? Oh, wow, this is crazy, right?’ And then when Will swung, I thought Chris slipped the shot, because from my angle, from where I was sitting, it didn’t look like Will had made any contact at all.
“When Chris was still standing, I was positive he didn’t make any contact at all because I had seen Will in the ring, and knock down professional fighters, right? So I was like, ‘Oh, this is a skit, but this is weird, like, what’s happening?’ And then when Will turned around, I was like, ‘Wait a minute, something is wrong. Something’s very wrong here.'”
That night wasn’t the first time Rock had poked fun at Pinkett Smith. The comedian also hosted the Oscars in 2016, when the #OscarsSoWhite campaign shook up Hollywood. Pinkett Smith was one of the many people who boycotted the ceremony, protesting the overwhelming majority of white nominees rewarded year after year by the Academy.
In Rock’s monologue, he said Pinkett Smith couldn’t boycott something she wasn’t invited to. “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties — I wasn’t invited,” he quipped.
At the 2022 Oscars, Rock’s punchline alluded to Pinkett Smith’s bald head, saying he was looking forward to seeing her in a sequel to G.I. Jane (Pinkett Smith lives with alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss). She responded with an eye roll, which the internet quickly turned into a meme.
“I think because Chris and I had buried our hatchet over 2016, I was just like, ‘Are we doing this again?’ That was number one,” says Pinkett Smith. “And then I was just like, really? Alopecia?
“It wasn’t about me, I’m going to be OK, I’m used to that. But the idea of making a joke around a condition that people have no control over, and I had heard some of the most heartbreaking stories of people who have kids who have committed suicide because of alopecia … I was just beside myself. And at that time, I just didn’t feel like faking it. I just wasn’t OK with that.”
Will and I hadn’t called each other husband and wife since 2016.– Jada Pinkett Smith
After the slap, Pinkett Smith recalls being blamed for her husband’s actions.
“[People were saying] she used her little evil temptress eye roll, you know, to get him up there,” Pinkett Smith tells Power. “Man, if I had any kind of control over him, the last three decades of this marriage would have been very different.’ We’d probably be in the mountains somewhere, chopping wood, you know, living in isolation.”
Rumours about Pinkett Smith were fuelled by a 2020 episode of her talk show Red Table Talk, during which she and Smith openly discussed her relationship (or “entanglement,” as she called it) with singer August Alsina. But at that time, it wasn’t public knowledge that the Smiths were already separated, which led to Pinkett Smith developing a reputation as an “adulterous wife.”
In spite of everything that’s happened, the incident at the Oscars may have actually saved their marriage, as the couple work on healing their relationship.
“Will and I are great,” says Pinkett Smith. “Like I talked about in the book, these circumstances can either amplify love or deteriorate it. And I have to say, that particular evening brought Will and I closer.”
The full interview with Jada Pinkett Smith is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. She also opens up about her struggle with self-worth and her friendship with the late rapper Tupac Shakur. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Interview with Jada Pinkett Smith produced by Glory Omotayo.
Q23:54Jada Pinkett Smith: Feeling unworthy, her friendship with Tupac, and the infamous Oscar slap