Jay Leno was in the audience at Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre for the Oscars last month when Will Smith, unhappy with a joke presenter Chris Rock had just made about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, walked onstage and slapped him. Although that moment was shocking for everyone there — and the millions watching — it was what happened afterward, when Smith twice yelled at Rock to, “Keep my wife’s name out your f***ing mouth,” that stuck with him.
“To me, the thing that’s most disturbing wasn’t the slap, because he was kind of smirking after he slapped [Rock],” the former host of The Tonight Show told the Palm Beach Daily News ahead of a gig in West Palm Beach, Fla. “It was the yelling of the obscenities. Then you go, ‘Whoa. What’s going on here?’ This is real anger.”
Smith, whom Leno considers a “good guy,” remained at the venue and went on to win the Best Actor award for his turn in King Richard. During his acceptance speech, he spoke about defending his family — the joke mocked his wife’s alopecia — and apologized to the Academy and to the rest of the audience. Rock declined to press charges, so Smith was not arrested. A day later, Smith publicly apologized to Rock, and event officials said they planned to investigate.
To Leno, the latter seemed unnecessary, since the slap was done in full view of the cameras.
“What are you investigating?,” Leno said. “It had to be the most recorded assault in history. I saw the back of his shoe, I saw Chris’s ear. There were so many cameras on this incident. What are you investigating? I know sometimes things are just what they appear to be.”
Many other people who were in the room, including co-host Wanda Sykes, who described the violence as “sickening,” while co-host Amy Schumer called the incident “traumatizing.”
Within a week of the slap, Smith resigned from the Academy. Its Board of Governors, which includes film veterans such as Whoopi Goldberg, Steven Spielberg, Ava DuVernay and Laura Dern, announced April 8 that it had voted to ban him from Academy events for 10 years. They did not take back his Oscar.