I waited a long time to comment on the big slap-down at the Academy Awards. For one thing, I like to have the last word, and maybe by waiting this long, I can actually have it. For another, there’s a lot to be said for the information-gathering phase preceding any expression of opinion –- it’s a phase many people skip –- and I processed a LOT of information. For example, I now know more about Will and Jada’s supposedly open marriage than anyone not getting paid $200 an hour should know, no matter how much Jada seemed to want to gab about it on video. Perhaps someday, if God is merciful, it will vanish from my brain cells to make room for something more worthwhile, which is to say just about anything else.
As far as I’m concerned, the Academy Awards have been ruined, but not by this literal slap in the face. I can’t remember exactly when it was during the past decade that I totally lost interest in what had always been a fun yearly tradition. But it’s no fun to watch an almost unimaginably successful but apparently broken man experiencing a public emotional meltdown, committing violence and bellowing the f-word from the audience on live TV. Now people will busily disagree about whether or not his punishment is appropriate, but it hardly matters. The Oscars were already wrecked.
The insular Hollywood community has always held little mystique for me. Celebrity means essentially nothing; some of the most talented people I know will never live in mansions or be household names. The sanctimonious and ill-informed politics of Hollywood have been extremely hard to take in recent years, but I think it was the “Oscars so white” brouhaha a few years back that finally did it, as the woke-left’s raging obsession with diversity got to be just too much. In a huge overcompensation, the race and gender quotas that are now built into Hollywood film projects and the awards that honor them have taken the focus away from fine artistic achievement in film. (And, sorry, but I don’t think you have to BE a (fill in the blank) to PLAY one. It’s called acting.) So goodbye, Oscars; I just don’t like what you’ve become. I feel like starting another #MeToo movement, as in, “Abandoning the Oscars? ME, TOO!”
I’m saying all this as a huge film buff, an actor myself and a member –- wait, the membership might have lapsed –- of the Dallas chapter of Women In Film. Deserving people should be recognized and rewarded for their talent and their work, period. These days, we’re lucky to see great films made by anyone. If they happen to check a few boxes, fine.
My personal taste runs to old movies, especially screwball comedies (not generally considered Oscar material) and black-and-white film noirs (ditto) featuring detectives in suits with fedoras, bad women with .22s in their rhinestone evening bags, and a total absence of cell phones, GPS and security cameras (which would make all these plots impossible). Most of my favorite movies were made before I was born, and the occasional modern remake typically pales in comparison to the original.
All of the above “backstory” is included as “exposition” for why I didn’t bother to tune in for the Academy Awards this year, I saw “the slap” later that night, on the news, and heard the criticism of Chris Rock for cracking a joke about the health condition (alopecia –- hair loss) suffered by Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. How dare he!
I won’t get into the marital issues that Will Smith and his wife are dealing with, other than to say to Will, “Get thee to a counselor,” and I don’t mean the one he and Jada have been seeing together. For Will to have done the shocking thing he did, he must be going through a terrible time in his life. At the same time, that doesn’t excuse him.
What I really want to say relates more to Chris Rock and his joke. As someone who’s been writing humor for more years than I care to divulge, I know that Chris –- a truly great standup –- would have known better than to joke about someone’s medical condition, at the Academy Awards no less. (As blunt as Ricky Gervais can be, I don’t think even he would do that.) Chris surely just thought she’d had her head shaved, either for the style or for a role. I myself had assumed she was just rocking the latest fashion trend among black women.
That’s because a week or so earlier, I was at the hair salon and happened to pick up the March issue of ELLE. It had a feature called “Black Women Cutting Their Hair Short Is Not Just a Style Trend.” Yes, it’s a trend among stylish black women, the article says, but it’s also about freedom and confidence. And right up there at the top left is a picture of Jada Pinkett Smith, looking fabulous and very glam with her confident smile and shaved head.
The article goes on to talk about how much effort black women have traditionally put into their “crowning glory,” with wigs, weaves, processing, etc., and many are deciding to let go of all that. “’Hair carries a lot of power and energy,’ says Carla Gentry, PINKETT SMITH’S LONGTIME STYLIST [emphasis mine]. ‘Sometimes cutting it off offers a new start, and you might need that.’”
The piece goes on to quote Pinkett Smith from last fall, saying that she “was ready for this kind of expression and release.” Once the hair was gone, she said, she felt “more connected” to herself. In other words, losing her hair was an empowering thing. A positive thing.
In fact, Will and Jada’s daughter Willow –- known, ironically, for her music video “Whip My Hair” –-had HER head shaved the same week, onstage, as part of another music video of the same song. “I’m always shaving my head at monumental times in my life,” she explains, “when things are really changing. And this is one of those moments.” So, it can even be a mother-daughter thing.
Way down in the ELLE article, it mentions that Jada had been dealing with alopecia, “a condition that can cause patchy hair loss.” It says she’d had a post on Instagram that “implied it had influenced her decision to adopt a crop.” I never saw that Instagram post, and I’ll bet Chris Rock didn’t, either. And if she did mention the alopecia any other times, I didn’t see those, and I’ll bet Chris Rock didn’t, either. I only saw the article about how great and empowering it was when black women cut off their hair.
Chris did nothing wrong and handled the incident and the aftermath with class. It was just a silly joke about somebody’s shaved head. And if shaving one’s head is so all-fired empowering for a woman, then that woman should smile graciously and accept the little joke, and the moment should pass. As for Jada, she seems to be doing all right.
That’s about all I have. I hope this is the last word.