Controversy at the Academy Awards: Ethical issues arise


“That was the greatest night in the history of television,” Chris Rock said after the now infamous slap from Will Smith’s hand fell across his face. 

This incident happened at the 94th Academy Awards ceremony when Rock made a G.I. Jane joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. The joke might have been directed at Pinkett’s shaved head. 

Many consider the joke to be in bad taste as Pinkett has recently been open about her struggle with alopecia, where the immune system attacks hair follicles and causes hair loss. 

This incident was so extreme that there were rumors the Academy would take away Smith’s first and only Oscar Award. However, the only significant backlash from the incident was Smith resigning from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. 

Many people had opinions about the incident and took to social media to share their thoughts. Celebrities also used their social media to voice their opinions. And if they didn’t, various reporters asked about the incident to see the celebrities’ responses. 

Tiffany Haddish, in an interview with People Magazine, said that Smith’s actions were “beautiful” and meant so much to her because the moment was a Black man standing up for his wife. 

Other celebrities did not share the same thoughts as Haddish. 

In an interview with Gayle King, Jim Carrey calls Hollywood “spineless” and that he is “sickened by the standing ovation” Smith received. Carrey agreed that the Academy should have escorted Smith out right after the slap. 

According to the Academy, Smith was asked to leave after the assault but refused.

This occurrence has brought up ethical questions, such as whether comedians are safe on stage anymore or when does protecting a loved one cross a line?

Fort Hays State University’s Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Peter Tramel said that many ethicists would agree that responding to insulting jokes with violence is wrong. 

Tramel noted that Smith did not lose control of his anger during the moment he got up and slapped Rock.

“People who lose control don’t theatrically walk up and slap; they charge and use fists.”

Tramel added that if any adult were as thin-skinned as Smith pretends to be during the Oscars, they would get into at least 20 physical fights before their 30s. 

“Chris Rock claims that he did not know about Smith’s wife’s alopecia condition; he thought that her baldness was a fashion choice. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, then his joke was not especially insensitive in its intention – at least not any more than any of his other jokes,” Tramel said. 

Smith has since apologized for his actions in an Instagram post. 

“I was out of line, and I was wrong. I am embarrassed, and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness,” Smith wrote.  

With Smith resigning and some of his projects being delayed/canceled due to the controversy, some users on Twitter have found this backlash to come off as racist. 

A whole new conversation is set for the following weeks as Louis C.K. won a Grammy after being accused by five different women of sexual misconduct.

The newest question remains unanswered: Does cancel culture disproportionately affect Black people in the entertainment industry?

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