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Why did Will Smith hit Chris Rock at the Oscars? What was Rock's joke?

The 94th Academy Awards on Sunday were overshadowed by an incident in which Will Smith, who went on to win Best Actor, slapped comedian Chris Rock on stage.

Chris Rock reacts after being hit by Will Smith (R) as Rock spoke on stage during the 94th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 27, 2022. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Will Smith won Best Actor at Sunday’s Oscars, but what should have been a crowning moment in the 53-year-old’s career was overshadowed by an incident that saw him punch comedian Chris Rock over a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith.

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On stage to introduce the nominees for the Best Documentary Oscar, Rock turned to Pinkett-Smith, who has sported a shaved head since mid-2021 amid her struggles with alopecia, and said: “Jada, I love you - GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see it.”

The quip was an apparent reference to Demi Moore's close-cropped look in the 1997 film GI Jane, in which Moore plays a woman who undertakes special-operations military training similar to the US Navy SEALs.

While Pinkett-Smith was very clearly not amused by Rock’s words, Smith can actually be seen laughing in the immediate aftermath of the joke.

"Keep your wife's name out of your fucking mouth"

However, he then gets up, strides on stage, hits Rock in the face, and marches back to his seat. Now visibly angry, the actor twice shouts: “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

In response, Rock says: “That was, uh, the greatest night in the history of television.”

Smith apologises in Best Actor acceptance speech

As he later picked up his Best Actor award for his starring role in King Richard, a biopic about the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, a tearful Smith apologised to his fellow nominees and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but not to Rock.

"Art imitated life; I look the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams,” Smith said. “Love will make you do crazy things.”

In a brief statement on social media, the Academy said it “does not condone violence of any form”. “Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this,” the body added.

Watch the video of the moment Will Smith hit Chris Rock:


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