Chris Rock's Prickly Oscar Night History With Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith

Was Will Smith's slap years in the making? Chris Rock has seemingly been friendly with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith everywhere except the Oscars, but maybe he made one joke too many.

By Natalie Finn Mar 28, 2022 7:30 PMTags
Watch: Will Smith SLAPS Chris Rock at Oscars 2022

What happened between Will Smith and Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars, if not years in the making, may have a little more history behind it than meets the eye.

Nevertheless, it only took a split second for whatever was simmering to boil over, with Smith slapping Rock in the face Sunday night after the comedian cracked a G.I. Jane joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's shaved head.

If the Oscars was trying to prove it could still deliver a viral moment—like, a really viral moment—it succeeded, as first the Internet wondered WTF had happened and then, once it became apparent that the man who would be crowned Best Actor barely a half hour later had actually smacked a presenter, needed to know everything

Let us remind you, however, that this isn't the first time this trio has had an Oscar night issue. Though at least the last one didn't involve hand-to-face combat.

2022 Oscars: Red Carpet Couples

First of all, Rock goes way back with both of them, having had a guest spot on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air in 1995 and later, once he was a bigger deal, lending his voice to three Madagascar movies along with Pinkett Smith.

"Hey, my kids listen to your kids!" Rock told her during a promo interview for Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted in 2012. "[Willow Smith's] '21th Century Girl'? Oh my god!"

Compliments all around! But you know how stressful awards season can be...

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Having hosted the Oscars previously in 2005, Rock was tapped to do the honors again in 2016—a dicey year to be master of ceremonies due to the #OscarsSoWhite criticism stemming from a dearth of nominees of color despite there having been plenty of performers, technicians and craftspeople to choose from.

So into this tinderbox stepped Rock, who handled it masterfully, but also made sure to poke fun at the people who had announced they would be boycotting the ceremony that year. 

Pinkett Smith was one of them.

See the Winners of the 2022 Oscars

And even though Rock once said there were "no Will Smith jokes," a testament to the fact that the movie star was absolutely killing it at life, apparently there were Will Smith's wife jokes.

"What happened this year? People went nuts. Spike [Lee] got mad. Jada went mad. Will went mad. Everyone went mad!" the host exclaimed. "Jada said she's not coming. I was like, 'Isn't she on a TV show?' Jada's gonna boycott the Oscars? Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna's panties. I wasn't invited!"

Rock continued, "Her man Will was not nominated for Concussion. I get it. You get mad. It's not fair that Will was this good and didn't get nominated. You're right. It's also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for Wild Wild West!"

OK, he rustled up a Will joke.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

When paparazzi caught up with Smith the next day in New York, he just flashed a wide grin and a peace sign in response to any and all questions about Rock's jab.

That following week, X17 checked in with Pinkett Smith for her reaction, and she said, "Hey look, it comes with the territory but we gotta keep it moving. We gotta keep it moving. We gotta keep it moving."

Trying to keep everyone's eye on the more serious ball in play, she added, "There's a lot of stuff we gotta handle, a lot of stuff in our world right now. We gotta keep it moving."

Vanity Fair Oscars After-Party 2022 Red Carpet Fashion

Really, who would've thought there'd be bad blood from that?

But last year Pinkett Smith opened up on Red Table Talk about being diagnosed with alopecia, which is an autoimmune disorder, and deciding to shave her head and embrace the baldness.

"Now at this point, I can only laugh," she said on her Facebook Watch talk show. 

Myung Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Other people laughing might have been too much for Smith to handle.

He was smiling literally seconds beforehand as Rock joked about how Javier Bardem wouldn't want to win on a night his wife, Penélope Cruz, lost, so if that was the case he'd be praying for Smith to win.

But when Rock then made his not particularly creative joke about Jada's shaved head, she looked extremely unamused. Smith was actually still kinda laughing. But seeing Pinkett Smith's stare of death, Rock quipped, "That was a nice one, okay?"

And then in the blink of an eye, Smith was approaching Rock—who was on stage to present Best Documentary—and slapping him.

At first it seemed as if that had to be fake, but witnesses have made it clear that emotions were running high in the room, and you needed a steak knife to cut through the tension.

"Oh, wow! Wow. Will Smith just smacked the s--t out of me," Rock said as the King Richard star walked away, looking not altogether furious. Rather, he had sort of a pleased, that's-what-happens-when-you-screw-with-my-woman kind of expression on his face. Almost a grin.

Meanwhile, the sound had cut out for most TV audiences (not in Australia, though!) so Smith, once again in his seat and by then looking more distressed, could only be seen yelling in the direction of the stage. You could just make out "my wife."

It turned out that he shouted, "Keep my wife's name out of your f--king mouth!"

To which Rock replied, "Wow, dude. It was a G.I. Jane joke." At which Smith reiterated, "Yes, keep my wife's name out of your f--king mouth!"

Rock, visibly flustered, managed, "That was the greatest night in the history of television, OK!" and proceeded to hand out the award. (Um, congrats to Questlove? Hopefully otherwise enjoying his win for Summer of Soul, the artist declined to answer questions about the altercation backstage.)


Sean "Diddy" Combs, up to introduce a 50th anniversary celebration of The Godfather, said, "I did not know that this year was gonna be the most exciting Oscars ever. Will and Chris, we're gonna solve that like family at the Gold party." The Smiths smiled. "But right now we're moving on with love."

Of course that wasn't the end of it, with everyone from evening co-host Amy Schumer—"Did I miss anything? There's like a different vibe in here…"—to Best Actress presenter Anthony Hopkins mentioning it in some way.

"Will Smith said it all," the Welsh actor offered. "What more can be said? Let's have peace and love and quiet."

As far as a resolution, though, for now Smith's emotional Best Actor acceptance speech—in which he apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees but didn't mention Rock—is just the latest bullet point on the timeline of this seemingly friendly acquaintanceship that always seems to sour on Oscar night.

Later in the evening, the Academy—after Oscar officials confirmed the moment was not plannedtweeted, "The Academy does not condone violence of any form. Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world."

Will Smith & Family Attend Vanity Fair Party After 2022 Oscars

Smith skipped the backstage press room after his big win, but his whole family showed up to the Vanity Fair Oscars party afterward. He "seemed pretty nonchalant about what happened," an eyewitness told E! News. "He was chatting with his kids and laughing. They were all acting like nothing had happened."

The actor even got jiggy wit it—for real, dancing to his own song when DJ D-Nice cranked it up—and he told The Hollywood Reporter, "It's been a beautiful night."

Rock, meanwhile, went to Gucci's 14th annual "The Party" at Guy Oseary's house, where D-Nice also played a set but maybe held off on the Will Smith tracks.

Back at the Vanity Fair party, self-proclaimed peacemaker Diddy reportedly told Page Six that the confrontation was already water under the bridge.

"That's not a problem," he said. "That's over. I can confirm that." Not going into detail, he just added, "It's all love. They're brothers."

E! News has contacted reps for Rock and the Smiths for comment.

(Originally published March 27 at 9:31 p.m. PT)

Head to E! Online's Oscars page for a full recap of the 2024 Academy Awards.