At the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, comedian Rock, 57, presented an award, taking time to crack a few jokes, including one about Jada Pinkett Smith‘s appearance. He made a gag about her hair matching Demi Moore‘s shaved head in the movie G.I. Jane. Jada, 50, was visibly unamused, rolling her eyes from her seat.
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Seconds later, Will, 53, walked onstage and approached Rock, smacking him in front of the audience and millions watching the telecast at home. Back at his table, Will shouted to a stunned Rock: “Keep my wife’s name out of your f—–g mouth.”
Rock declined to press charges. When Will won Best Actor later in the ceremony, he apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees but did not mention Rock. In his tearful speech, he spoke about acting out of love and protection, saying, “Love makes you do crazy things.”
Countless stars shared their reactions to the heated moment on social media, and even more provided their takes when asked by reporters at after parties following the ceremony.
Jada’s Girls Trip costar Tiffany Haddish told PEOPLE at the Governors Ball that she saw it as “a Black man stand[ing] up for his wife,” which “meant so much to me.” She added, “Maybe the world might not like how it went down, but for me it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen because it made me believe that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives.”
Queen Latifah had no comment on the Smith and Rock controversy at Governors Ball, saying: “I love everybody!” Of the ceremony, she added, “It felt alive, there were amazing performances, and it just felt so good to celebrate.”
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Minnie Driver spoke with PEOPLE at the Vanity Fair Oscar party, saying of the incident: “I think that we were part of something incredibly personal and it broke my heart. Deeply personal between some people. It was… I don’t know. The world right now, we’re living in high stress times. People feel things incredibly deeply and it’s an expression of that.”
ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith said in a video on Twitter that it was a “shameful act,” acknowledging that he’s a fan of Will but cannot condone the violence. “There’s no excuse for that,” he added. “Don’t even try to justify it.” Stephen also tweeted that Will “just stained the greatest moment of his career. You cannot do that S$&@!! Especially as a BLACK MAN, in that position, to ANOTHER BLACK MAN (@chrisrock) on THAT STAGE.”
Nicki Minaj, meanwhile, defended the response even though “I love Chris Rock.” She tweeted about Jada previously being open about hair loss due to the autoimmune disorder alopecia, saying, “The husband gets a front row seat to his wife’s pain… he’s the 1 consoling her… drying her tears behind closed doors when those cameras go off. Social media has made ppl feel that these ‘husbands’ won’t ever run into them in real life.”
“… You just got to witness in real time what happens in a man’s soul when he looks over to the woman he loves & sees her holding back tears from a ‘little joke’ at her expense,” the rapper added. “This is what any & every real man feels in that instant. while y’all seeing the joke he’s seeing her pain.”
Former NBA player Charlie Villanueva, who, like Pinkett Smith has alopecia, shared his perspective on Rock’s joke and the aftermath, writing on Instagram, “She voiced that she struggled with it, and Chris Rock thought it was cool to crack a joke. We are not with Jada everyday to know the level of the struggle, but Will does. As I don’t condone violence, Im proud that Will Smith stood up for his wife. Therefore I encouraging others to be more respectful to one another.”
In his acceptance speech, Will referenced sometimes being the butt of jokes in Hollywood and having to roll with it: “I know to do what we do you gotta be able to take abuse; you gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you, and you gotta smile and pretend like that’s okay.”
Several comedians rallied behind Rock, condemning the response to his joke, including Kathy Griffin, who tweeted, “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.”
Said Mia Farrow, “It was just a joke. Jokes are what Chris Rock does. Always has been edgy. This was a mild joke for him,” while singer Richard Marx tweeted, “Hey professional comedians: be on notice! From now on, you need to make sure your jokes don’t offend people. Especially extremely attractive, famous and exorbitantly wealthy people!”
More celebrities spoke out and said violence is never the answer and should not be rationalized as an act of love.
“We should never get to a place where we sit and watch a movie star hit someone on global television then, moments later, get a standing ovation while talking about love,” said Maria Shriver.
Today show co-anchor Craig Melvin said on Monday’s broadcast, “If you’re raising a boy, especially in this country, you spend so much time talking to that kid about keeping your hands to yourself, controlling your emotions. And then there’s also this long-held perception in this country that men of color, especially, can’t control their rage and their anger. Just to see someone who was that beloved for decades, it was troubling on so many levels.”
Rosie O’Donnell said, “so upsetting – on every level – bravo to Chris Rock – for not eviscerating will smith – which he could do any day of the week – he walked away – bravo from a sad display of toxic masculinity from a narcissistic madman.”
In a statement after the show, the Academy said, “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,” it continued, shifting the focus to the newly minted Oscar winners.
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