AM hosts, New Zealand Film Commission, Oscars experts slam incident between Chris Rock and Will Smith saying it was 'toxic masculinity'

The New Zealand Film Commission, AM hosts and Oscars experts have voiced their displeasure at the incident between Chris Rock and Will Smith, with one saying it became about "toxic masculinity".

Rock made a joke about Smith's wife's appearance before the incident unfolded. Rock was roasting some of the award nominees and, after mentioning Smith, said of his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, "Jada, I love you. GI Jane II, can't wait to see it".

The comedian and actor was referencing the 1997 film GI Jane in which actress Demi Moore shaved her head. Pinkett Smith told Billboard in December she has been battling the autoimmune disorder alopecia, which can cause hair loss and balding.

It's unclear whether Rock is aware Pinkett Smith suffers from the disease.

After the comments, Smith walked on stage toward Rock and threw an open hand at the host's face producing an audible smack.

"Keep my wife's name out of your f**king mouth," Smith said as he returned to his seat from the stage.

Combination picture showing Will Smith hiting Chris Rock as Rock spoke on stage during the 94th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 27, 2022. REUTERS/Brian Snyder     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Photo credit: Reuters

AM co-hosts Bernadine Oliver-Kerby, Ryan Bridge and Melissa Chan-Green got into a spirited debate over the incident.

Chan-Green said the incident was about "toxic masculinity" and overshadowed the entire event. 

"The Chris Rock, Will Smith incident has overshadowed what was or should have been the big talking point of the night, which was Dame Jane Campion - an incredible achievement not only as a director but as a female director in that industry - you have three female hosts, you had Beyoncé deliver an incredible performance about Serena and Venus Williams and the challenges they have faced in their success, so it really overshadowed what could've been an amazing night for women but became about toxic masculinity," Chan-Green said. 

Bridge didn't agree with Smith's actions but was coy about the incident.

"Is that what you think it was? I suppose it was. It was a guy upset about someone offending his wife and he feels he has to protect her," he says. 

"I'm not saying I agree, that's not what you should do obviously, but that is how it's been painted," Bridge says.  

The debate continued with Chan-Green saying: "But it's that whole, get my wife's name of your mouth, is that very ownership, she is mine, I protect her, it's a real old-fashioned misogynistic way of looking after women."

Oliver-Kerby thought the incident was "testosterone overload".

"He was defending his wife but it's a question of taste. What Chris Rock did is up to the individual whether they thought it was too far, it was a matter of taste whether they liked it or not,' she said. 

"It's about how Will Smith reacted, there is no excuse, so that is the problem."

Bridge worried some men who have seen the incident will feel an affinity with the way he responded and acted.

"I bloody hope they don't act on it because we have a major issue with domestic violence and scenes like that aren't going to help," Oliver-Kerby said. 

"I had one of my children show me the phone [of what Will Smith did], shocked. What kind of message does that sound, we cannot condone that."

Sam Rubin, AM's US Entertainment Correspondent who was at the Oscars, said it defined the night in a "horrible way". 

"What makes this whole thing so baffling and really frankly so terribly disturbing, those in the room at the Dolby Theatre heard the slap," he told AM. 

"It echoed throughout the room, it chilled the room but people initially thought, this is a joke, it was a prank, it was set up, it's staged ... it literally took the air out of the room."  

"This defined the night and defined it in an absolutely horrible way." 

Newshub entertainment editor Kate Rodger told AM she felt conflicted by the incident.

"I was super pumped that he [Will Smith] was going to win an Oscar but now I feel so conflicted and everyone I have spoken to since and when I woke up this morning I was like did I just dream all that," she said.

"There are so many people around the world who love Will Smith who is waking up and thinking, oh man why did he have to do that.

"I think there will be a lot of people that understand how Will Smith was feeling but imagine how powerful it would've been if he had made a stand with A, without violence and without screaming like that from the crowd and maybe he went up and stood up for Jada at the microphone without any of that. That kind of moment was the kind of powerful moment I would've been there for." 

New Zealand Film Commission chief executive David Strong who was also at the Oscars said the incident was "surprising" and caught people off-guard. 

"I guess you are talking about Will Smith, it was surprising. I think it took everyone by surprise, it took a few minutes for the room to recalibrate after that," he told AM from Hollywood.

"We weren't really too sure if it was a gag or if it was real and I think the audience was trying to find their way through that at the end. 

"I will say though, I do not believe it is appropriate to strike someone regardless of the situation like that. 

"It was probably inappropriate how far Chris pushed that but I can't really comment on that. I will say, at the end of the day, we were all delighted that the awards could keep going and the rest of the awards particularly Dame Jane Campion, best picture, best actor, etc, could be given out."