Hurt People Hurt People (at the Oscars)
On Will Smith's interview with Trevor Noah and his comments about "The Slap"
I just finished watching Will Smith’s interview with Trevor Noah for The Daily Show and I thought it was pretty extraordinary. Smith was on to promote his appearance in Antoine Fuqua’s upcoming film Emancipation (the film hits Apple TV+ on December 9th). But it was also the first time Smith has spoken at length about “The Slap” at the Oscars. He is remarkably unguarded in the interview and my guess is he’s only lightly practiced some of his talking points.
I found The Slap, as a cultural phenomenon, to be endlessly fascinating. First, there was the incident itself.
It may come as no surprise to you but I’d describe myself as a mildly public figure. As such, I spend a lot of time considering how I come across publicly and professionally. Even the little amount I do spend on pondering these things is pretty exhausting. I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone of Will Smith’s stature and notoriety.
When The Slap happened, I thought about the control that it takes to cultivate a friendly, likable public persona like Smith’s over the course of decades. How much glad-handing and ring-kissing and all-around loss of self it must’ve taken to become one of the biggest stars in the world. How effortful it must have been to make film after film, pushing himself into ever-more challenging roles. How exhausting the non-stop Oscar campaigns must have been each year.
And then, I thought about how mere minutes away from a victory he’d work his whole life towards, he let that mask split for just a few seconds. What must it have taken to allow this to happen? How much pressure had Smith been under, and what did it take to just kick the pot over and let it all spill out?
Even more fascinating than The Slap itself was the reaction to it. When I first witnessed The Slap, I thought it was an absolute wrong. How could violence be acceptable under any circumstances? But I soon realized that people had a wide variety of opinions on the matter. Some people reacted strongly (e.g. “Will Smith could’ve killed Chris Rock!”) while others called them out on it. It was fascinating Rorschach test that illuminated how we think differently about the act of slapping someone.
[Here’s a TikTok I made about the reactions to the slap. And for a great dialogue about this topic, I’d strongly recommend this episode of Culturally Relevant. I’m hopeful the podcast will be back soon!]
Fast forward to today and Smith’s interview with Noah. Smith feel earnest and unpolished throughout. He explains that he was going through some things (duh), and then acknowledges some of the very real anguish that has resulted from The Slap. His story about a young family member who didn’t understand his actions the night of the awards is particularly heartbreaking, as is his wish that Emancipation’s prospects not be negatively impacted.
I admire Smith for putting himself out there in this way and acknowledging the pain that he’s caused (and may still cause). But the biggest takeaway that I have from the interview is one that Smith tries to get across to the audience: Never assume you know what people are going through.
Links you should check out
An extraordinary story in The New York Times about a juvenile court judge who shunted a young criminal off to be tried as an adult, and how that single decision dramatically altered the course of her life.
Andor is one of the best shows on TV and I loved Roxana Hadadi’s interview with showrunner Tony Gilroy (also see Jeff Goldsmith’s interviews with Gilroy)
Stuff I’ve made
[PAID ONLY] On Decoding TV, Roxana Hadadi and I did a bonus episode discussing emails we’ve received plus some of the interesting threads from season 2 of The White Lotus.
Related: Roxana and I also recapped and reviewed this week’s episode (“That’s Amore”) of The White Lotus, a show which continues to shock and surprise.
Finally on Decoding TV, we covered the middle three episodes of The Crown: Season 5. This season is definitely shaping up to be overall not great but there are some highs to be found within this uneven bunch of eps.
Good interview. I'll admit that over the past few months I've become less upset about the Smith slap.
It's good to see someone admit they were wrong, that they aren't' perfect - but also pointing out that none of us know for sure what's happening emotionally with strangers (or celebs in this case).
Compare that to how awful people like Ye/Musk are acting in the public eye and it's easier to let some things go.
Am going to miss having Trevor Noah’s voice in late night.