Will Smith and Chris Rock's Complicated History Predates the Oscars Slap

Will Smith and Chris Rock's heated exchange at the 2022 Academy Awards will go down in Oscars infamy. The annual show took a sharp turn on March 27, 2022, when Smith slapped Rock in the face after the comedian made a cruel joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and her buzz cut. The "Red Table Talk" cohost has been candid about her hair loss and alopecia, so Smith took offense to his wife's medical condition being a punchline.

The shocking moment moved rather quickly during the Oscars, leaving many viewers with unanswered questions — mainly why Smith chose that moment to confront Rock. For those unaware of their previous encounters, Smith's actions may have seemed extreme. However, several of Smith's peers have defended him — including his "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" costar Janet Hubert. On March 27, 2022, Hubert shared a now-deleted Instagram post (via Entertainment Weekly) with a screenshot of Smith giving his acceptance speech captioned, "So PROUD OF YOU!" She added: "Yes, there is only so much one can take...sometimes you have to slap back . . . both actions were incorrect but Chris didn't need to go there."

Smith's mother, Carolyn, also came to his defense, explaining to 6ABC that his actions were out of character for him. "He is a very even, people person," she said. "That's the first time I've ever seen him go off. First time in his lifetime . . . I've never seen him do that." Pinkett Smith, who celebrated with the "King Richard" star following the Oscars, seemingly addressed the incident as well, calling for "healing."

On March 29, 2022, Rock's brother Tony Rock spoke out about the altercation, tweeting that he's "waiting..." for Smith to speak directly to Rock. When a fan asked if he approved of Smith's apology, Tony simply wrote, "No." Tony also teased that a more formal response from him is coming.

The following day, the Academy announced that it had begun disciplinary proceedings to evaluate Smith's actions. in April 2022, the Academy announced it had voted to ban Smith from all Academy events, including the Oscars, for 10 years, according to Variety.

What occurred between Rock and Smith was not an isolated incident. In fact, it's possible that their friction began a few years ago when Rock poked fun at Pinkett Smith at the 2016 Oscars. Their altercation is more layered than we realize, and more details have trickled out about their complicated history — most recently, during Pinkett Smith's October press tour to promote her upcoming memoir, "Worthy." Keep reading for a breakdown of Smith and Rock's history, as well as the events that followed the Oscars incident.

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Feb. 28, 2016: Chris Rock Makes Fun of Jada Pinkett Smith at the 2016 Oscars

Rock's first awkward interaction with the Smiths took place when he hosted the 2016 Oscars. During his opening monologue, the comedian mentioned Jada Pinkett Smith's name among the group of celebrities boycotting the award ceremony that year for its lack of diversity in nominations. "Jada says she's not coming. Protesting. I'm like, 'Ain't she on a TV show?'" said Rock. "Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna's panties. I wasn't invited!"

Pinkett Smithresponded to Rock's remarks a week later when photographers spotted her walking through LAX, according to Entertainment Tonight. She told them, "Hey, look it comes with the territory, we gotta keep it moving. We got a lot of stuff we gotta handle, a lot of stuff going on in our world right now. We gotta keep it moving."

Nov. 16, 2018: Chris Rock Comments on Will and Jada Pinkett Smith's Marriage
Getty | Michael Loccisano

Nov. 16, 2018: Chris Rock Comments on Will and Jada Pinkett Smith's Marriage

Smith, who's still good friends with his ex-wife Sheree Zampino, wished her a happy birthday in 2018 by sharing a throwback photo of the two with their son on Instagram. Smith captioned the post, "Happy Bday, @shereezampino. #BestBabyMamaEver! :-) I Love You, Ree-Ree." Rock left a comment on the post — which later went viral — telling Smith, "Wow. You have a very understanding wife," referencing Pinkett Smith.

Though Smith didn't respond to Rock's comment about his wife, Zampino seemingly acknowledged it and wrote, "Awwwwwwwww…thank you baby daddy!!!!!! I love you back! And thank you @treysmith0011 for being the reason we came together. And to @jadapinkettsmith for being an understanding, secure, and absolutely AMAZING wife, mother, Bonus-mom, and Co-parenting partner!"

March 27, 2022: Will Smith Slaps Chris Rock at the Oscars
Getty | Myung Chun

March 27, 2022: Will Smith Slaps Chris Rock at the Oscars

While presenting the best documentary category at the 2022 Oscars, Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's buzzcut, telling her he's looking forward to seeing her in "G.I. Jane 2." The "Red Table Talk" host rolled her eyes at the remark, and Smith promptly approached Rock onstage, slapping him in the face. Upon returning to his seat in the audience, Smith yelled to Rock twice, "Keep my wife's name out of your f*cking mouth."

Rock responded saying that it was just "a 'G.I. Jane' joke" and said he wouldn't mention Pinkett Smith's name again, per Smith's request. The comedian then awkwardly moved on to present the award to Questlove for his film "Summer of Soul." Diddy later came out to present the award and address Rock and Smith's incident saying, "Will and Chris, we're going to solve that like family. Right now we're moving on with love."

March 27, 2022: Will Smith Apologizes to the Academy and Nominees at the 2022 Oscars
Getty | Myung Chun

March 27, 2022: Will Smith Apologizes to the Academy and Nominees at the 2022 Oscars

Smith took home the award for best actor in a leading role at the 2022 Oscars, and offered an apology as part of his acceptance speech. "I want to apologize to the Academy, I want to apologize to all the nominees," he said. Smith added that before returning to the stage, Denzel Washington — who comforted Smith after his incident with Rock — told the "King Richard" star, "At your highest moment, be careful; that's when the devil comes for you." Smith concluded his speech jokingly saying, "[I] hope the Academy invites me back."

March 28, 2022: The Academy Condemns Will Smith's Actions at the Oscars

March 28, 2022: The Academy Condemns Will Smith's Actions at the Oscars

Hours after the 2022 Oscars, the Academy tweeted a statement acknowledging the incident between Smith and Rock. "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."

The institution later released a new statement announcing that it was investigating the altercation. "The Academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night's show. We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our Bylaws, Standards of Conduct and California law." Deadline reported that the result of the investigation could lead to Smith being ejected from the Academy and suspended from future events, including next year's Oscars.


March 28, 2022: Will Smith Issues a Public Apology Following Oscars Altercation

The day after the 2022 Oscars, Smith issued a formal public apology to Rock, the Academy, Oscars producers, and viewers who witnessed his altercation. "Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night's Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable," he wrote in an Instagram post. "Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada's medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally."

He added: "I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. 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 wrapped up his statement by apologizing to the Williams family and the "King Richard" cast. "I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us. I am a work in progress."

Afterwards, NBC News reported that the actor's real-life "King Richard" counterpart, Richard Williams, weighed in on the controversy and condemned Smith's actions. "We don't know all the details of what happened," Williams told the outlet, via his son Chavoita LeSane. "But we don't condone anyone hitting anyone else unless it's in self-defense."

March 30, 2022: The Academy Initiates Disciplinary Proceedings Against Will Smith
Getty | Neilson Barnard

March 30, 2022: The Academy Initiates Disciplinary Proceedings Against Will Smith

On March 30, the Academy released a statement saying it had begun disciplinary proceedings as a result of Smith's actions at the Oscars. Per Variety, the statement read: "The Board of Governors today initiated disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Smith for violations of the Academy's Standards of Conduct, including inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior, and compromising the integrity of the Academy."

The Academy also noted that Smith was formally asked to leave during the ceremony, but he refused to do so. However, sources later refuted the claims to Variety, saying he was not urged to leave the show.

March 30, 2022: Chris Rock Speaks Out About the Oscars Incident
Getty | Neilson Barnard

March 30, 2022: Chris Rock Speaks Out About the Oscars Incident

During his stand-up show at Boston's Wilbur Theater, Rock briefly addressed the Oscars incident while speaking to the crowd. Per Variety, when the comedian took the stage, he exclaimed, "Whoa, OK!"

Shortly after, he asked the audience how their weekend was before adding, "I don't have a bunch of sh*t about what happened, so if you came to hear that, I have a whole show I wrote before this weekend. I'm still kind of processing what happened. So, at some point I'll talk about that sh*t. And it will be serious and funny."


June 1, 2022: Jada Pinkett Smith Addresses the Oscars Incident on "Red Table Talk"

In a June 1, 2022, episode of "RTT" dedicated to exploring the impact of alopecia, Pinkett Smith addressed Rock's Oscars joke and Smith's actions at the event. "Now, about Oscar night . . . my deepest hope is that these two intelligent, capable men have an opportunity to heal, talk this out, and reconcile. The state of the world today, we need them both, and we all actually need one another more than ever," she said, adding, "Until then, Will and I are continuing to do what we have done for the last 28 years, and that's to keep figuring out this thing called life together."

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July 29, 2022: Will Smith Releases Emotional Video Apology Addressing the Oscars Incident

In a nearly six-minute-long YouTube video titled "It's Been a Minute...," Smith addressed his actions at the Oscars, apologizing publicly to his family for his actions that night.

"There is no part of me that thinks that was the right way to behave in that moment," Smith said. "There's no part of me that thinks that's the optimal way to handle a feeling of disrespect or insults." He added, "I want to say sorry to my kids and my family for the heat that I brought on all of us."

In the video, he also clarified that while he'd attempted to reach out to Rock personally, they still had not talked. "The message that came back is he's not ready to talk, and when he is, he will reach out."

March 4, 2023: Chris Rock Addresses the Oscars Incident in "Selective Outrage" Comedy Special
Getty | Arnold Jerocki

March 4, 2023: Chris Rock Addresses the Oscars Incident in "Selective Outrage" Comedy Special

In his Netflix comedy special "Selective Outrage," which was released on March 4, Rock addressed the Oscars incident from every angle imaginable. "A year ago f*cking last week, I got smacked at the f*cking Oscars by this mothef*cker. And people are like, 'Did it hurt?' It still hurts. I've got 'Summertime' ringing in my ears," he began (via NME). "But I'm not a victim, baby. You will never see me on Oprah or Gayle crying . . . I took that hit like [Manny] Pacquiao."

Rock took jabs at Smith for slapping someone who is significantly smaller than him. "I know you can't tell on camera," he said, "but Will Smith is significantly bigger than me. We are not the same size, OK? We are not. Will Smith does movies with his shirt off. You have never seen me do a movie with my shirt off. If I'm in a movie getting open heart surgery, I got on a sweater. Will Smith played Muhammad Ali in a movie. You think I auditioned for that part? He played Muhammad Ali, I played Pookie in 'New Jack City.' I played a piece of corn in 'Pootie Tang.'"

Rock went on to call out Smith for practicing selective outrage, suggesting the real reason he slapped him at the Oscars was about his relationship issues with Pinkett Smith, not the joke he made that night. "Everybody knows what the f*ck happened, everybody really knows I had nothing to do with that sh*t. I didn't have any entanglements, I didn't. I did not have any entanglements," he said, alluding to Pinkett Smith's relationship with August Alsina that she famously called an "entanglement" in a 2020 episode of her talk show, "Red Table Talk." Rock continued, "We've all been cheated on. Everybody in here has been cheated on. None of us have ever been interviewed by the person that cheated on us on television. None of us. 'Hey I was sucking somebody else's d*ck. How did that make you feel?' Why the f*ck would you do that sh*t? She hurt him way more than he hurt me, OK."

Rock circled back to accuse Smith of kicking down. "Everybody in the world calls him a b*tch . . . F*cking Charlamagne [tha God] called him a b*tch and 'The Breakfast Club' called him a b*tch, and 'The View,' and 'The Talk,' and every rapper, and the 'Drink Champs' . . . Everybody, everybody. And who's he hitting? Me. A n***** he knows he can beat. That is some b*tch ass sh*t."

Rock concluded the segment by explaining why he didn't fight back, sharing, "A lot of people say, Chris, why did you do nothing back? How come you didn't do nothing back? Because I got parents, that's why. Because I was raised. I got parents, and you know what my parents taught me? Don't fight in front of white people."

Oct. 11, 2023: Jada Pinkett Smith Opens Up About Her History With Chris Rock
Getty | Steve Granitz

Oct. 11, 2023: Jada Pinkett Smith Opens Up About Her History With Chris Rock

While promoting the release of her memoir, "Worthy," Pinkett Smith opened up to People about her past issues with Rock, admitting that she may have contributed to some of the misunderstandings between them. "I think that there might be some misunderstanding between Chris and I as far as the 2016 Oscars," she said, referring to her boycotting the event and reportedly asking Rock to drop his hosting gig because of a lack of diversity among its nominees that year. "I think that he might've taken offense, which I meant no harm in offending. That wasn't my intention. But I do think that there's a big misunderstanding there."

Pinkett Smith admitted to "not really recognizing the level of pressure he might've been under" at the time, adding, "I probably should have called him and gone, 'Hey, are you okay? And just know that although I'm speaking out about the Oscars, I do wish you the best and I just want you to know that,' me taking the time to have called him and said that, just to touch base. But his feelings might've been hurt."

Pinkett Smith thought they had moved past their issues in 2016, however, after Rock called her. "He apologized and I apologized to him as well," she said. "So I actually thought that we were good, that the hatchet was buried between us. And we hadn't talked since then, until 2022 came."

Pinkett Smith revealed that while Rock immediately came to talk to her after Smith slapped him at the 2022 Oscars, she saw the issue as being entirely between her husband and Rock. "Chris came down to the end of the stage and tried to apologize to me," she recounted. "He said, 'I didn't mean you any harm.' I said, 'I can't talk about this now, Chris. This is some old sh*t.' I thought this was [about] the Oscar 2016 and . . . their stuff that they had before I even came into the picture in the late '80s. I've got to leave that to Will and Chris to talk about, but they got their stuff for sure."

One thing that might be lingering between Rock and Smith: the new detail that Rock once asked Pinkett Smith out on a date. "I think every summer all the reports would come out that me and Will were getting a divorce. And this particular summer, Chris, he thought that we were getting a divorce," she shared. "So he called me and basically he was like, 'I'd love to take you out.' And I was like, 'What do you mean?' He was like, 'Well, aren't you and Will getting a divorce?' I was like, 'No. Chris, those are just rumors.' He was appalled. And he profusely apologized and that was that."