David: Hollywood needs to give Will Smith grace

Loretta David, Columnist

Content warning: This story contains mentions of physical and sexual assault.

Traumatized, triggered, sickened — these are some of the words figures in Hollywood used to describe how they felt when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars. The slap has divided the public: some commend Smith for protecting his wife from a joke about her medical condition, while others condemn him for physically attacking someone on national television. But perhaps one of the most notable facets of this situation was the celebrity response. 

The day after the Oscars, Twitter was filled with celebrities commenting on the incident. 

Let me tell you something, it’s a very bad practice to walk up on stage and physically assault a Comedian. Now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theaters,” comedian Kathy Griffin wrote. 

Griffin uses Smith as a synonym for violence, implying his action will empower others to physically assault comedians in the future. While Griffin hasn’t slapped anyone at an awards show, she has been reprimanded for using her platform to promote violent imagery. 

In 2017, Griffin received significant backlash for posing with a fake decapitated head of former President Donald Trump. As a result, she was dropped by CNN, rebuked by her colleagues and forced to cancel the rest of her tour. Amid the chaos, Griffin pleaded with the public. 

I beg for your forgiveness,” Griffin wrote on Twitter. “I went too far. I made a mistake, and I was wrong.” 

Almost a year later, she retracted her apology and reposted the gory image in November 2020.

Why can’t Griffin extend the same grace she wanted to Will Smith? Why can’t Griffin use her platform to promote forgiveness? Instead, she uses her platform to stoke the flames of so-called cancel culture, despite her own experiences with it. And Griffin isn’t the only person in Hollywood with a troubled past who has taken a dig at Smith since the Oscars.

In an interview, actor Jim Carrey said he “was sickened by the standing ovation” Smith received when he was awarded Best Actor. Carrey’s comments reek of hypocrisy, given he has also displayed questionable behavior at an awards show in the past. 

Carrey, who was 35 years old at the time, forcibly kissed 20-year-old Alicia Silverstone at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. As Carrey forced his lips on the young starlet, the audience cheered. That’s right. They cheered as a powerful actor assaulted a young woman on national television. This did not affect his career. He is still a widely respected comedian and actor. No one has called for his awards to be revoked. And Carrey has never said he felt “sickened” by the audience cheering for him as he humiliated Silverstone. 

Celebrities who have spoken against Smith also include Howard Stern, who has used the N-word and worn blackface, and Alec Baldwin, who has repeatedly assaulted photographers. The list of celebrities with troubled pasts who spoke against Smith is long. If you look at some of the most prominent figures in the entertainment industry today, you get a clear message: Hollywood has no issue with forgiving some celebrities for blackface, sexual harassment, domestic violence, racism and more. 

Smith shouldn’t have slapped Rock. There were a number of reasonable options he should have considered. By slapping Rock, he redirected the public’s attention from the historic wins and representation for marginalized communities to an ugly moment. He let his emotions get to him, and he made a mistake. 

All of us make mistakes in private or in front of our friends and family. Smith made his in front of millions of people at one of the most prestigious events in Hollywood. But Smith cannot retract what happened. The Oscars are over. Smith has apologized and renounced violence. He has resigned from the Academy. His career should not be further tarnished over this situation.

Loretta David is a Weinberg freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.