Will Smith at the Oscars

Words: Shane Ramdhany

Will Smith: A Meditation on, “The Slap.”

Could the universal love for Will Smith be easily measured prior to Oscar night?  It is simply too immense a number.  A soul that loathed him simply did not exist prior to that re-defining moment.  It was a strike that shattered our expectations for this adored icon of cinema.  It was a strike that overshadowed a celebration of Black culture, supplanting it with a derivative stereotype.  It was a strike that served as a stark reduction of the ground gained through active feminism. Will has coerced us into a new lens with which to view him.

I have spent my life treating Will Smith as more of a deity than a celebrity.  His ability to subvert this perception within only a few seconds has proved an incredible feat, which he has more than accomplished.  How can one view the energetic, humorous, loving personality portrayed on screen as anything more than an illusion generated by a con artist following this moment?  My belief in Will’s adeptness as a performer is now infused with and dissolved by a conviction that he is more accurately a master of deception. It’s not simply that he has evolved into an entity that does not align with our adoration.  It is that he has simply shed the masquerade that has had us convinced of his uncanny ability to be loved.

Beyond our changed outlook, we can also observe what can only be described as a demolished opportunity to embrace and admire a depiction of Black culture’s arts. When Quest Love deservedly received the Oscar for Best Documentary for, “Summer of Soul,”  it was abundantly clear that the focus of the audience was not on that of a work that shapes and enriches an understanding of the Black community and its contributions.  Instead, it was still submerged in the pits of a Black celebrity that negatively reinforced a maligned stereotype.  We are left pondering the dilemma of how one can simultaneously embrace this culture (on “Summer of Soul”) and continue to avoid prejudice (on “The Slap”).  Smith’s myopic reaction to Rock’s familiar offensive nature is far less heroic than it is self-serving.  

This notion extends further with the hard-earned establishment of feminism and the progress it has made over the last few decades.  Will’s need to save his, “damsel in distress,” only serves to minimize the female role and positions it as subjugate to its male counterpart.  Jada has always elicited a persona of anything but a woman dependent on her man.  However, rather than fortify herself and launch a counter offensive at Rock, she appeared satisfied with allowing Will to take the reigns. This inevitably begs the question, does she value the pleasure of having a Knight in shining armor more than delivering a message to little girls of the world that you can’t weather adversity on your own?

This moment has dealt a devastating blow to many communities (women, people of color) that have worked aggressively over generations to attain a status that demands more respect and understanding of their values.  Will and Jada have delivered the message that they are willing to forego their influence on many demographics for the simple gratification of good old-fashioned alpha male retaliation.

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