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What is alopecia and why was Chris Rock joking about it with Jada Smith?

The Oscars were largely overshadowed by the slapping of Chris Rock by Will Smith, with the apparent feud related to a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith's illness.

Jada Pinkett Smith arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar party during the 94th Academy Awards in Beverly Hills, California.
Danny MoloshokReuters

In 2018, Jada Pinkett-Smith, the famous actress, announced that she had been diagnosed with alopecia. Since 2021, she has had her hair cropped short to mark her coming to terms with the illness.

"Willow made me do it because it was time to let go," she wrote in the accompanying caption. "BUT ... my 50's are bout to be divinely lit with this shed (shaved head)," she posted on Instagram.

Alopecia is an auto-immune disorder that can cause heavy and rapid hair loss. There are varying degrees of the disease, which can vary from losing a patch of hair to losing all hair on your body. The reason for this is your immune system targets the hair follicles, making them die and fall out. Currently, there is no cure and the chance of developing symptoms is greater in those who have family members with the disease.

Other celebrities with the illness include Little Mix singer Jesy Nelson, as well as actress Keira Knightley.

Alopecia and Pinkett-Smith's battle has come to the forefront in the wake of Sunday night's events at the Oscars awards ceremony, where a tasteless joke from Comedian Chris Rock was met with fury by Pinkett-Smith's husband, Will Smith.

What did Chris Rock say on the Oscars stage?

On stage to introduce the nominees for the Best Documentary Oscar, Rock turned to Pinkett-Smith, and said: “Jada, I love you - GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see it.”

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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.

How did Will Smith react?

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

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