The 2022 Oscars will forever be remembered as the night that Will Smith slapped Chris Rock, and Smith was allowed to remain at the event, receive an award, deliver his acceptance speech, and attend after-parties.
I’m sometimes baffled about the topics people expect me to weigh in on, especially when they don’t involve cyberbullying, cyberstalking, online abuse, reputation management, cyber-safety, advocacy, marketing, public relations, fundraising, nonprofit development, organizational behavior, positive psychology, happiness, hiking, birds, antisemitism, or any of the other subjects that would make sense to me. Sometimes, I’m flattered that people want my opinion at all. Other times, I wonder what connection they’re making that I fail to see.
I refrained from publicly sharing my opinion about the Oscars incident because I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to jump into this discussion. As the week unfolded, several people reached out to me for my perspective and asked why I hadn’t talked about it.
In general, I don’t think I need to share my opinion about everything, but I understand why it’s beneficial to be part of important conversations, even if they’re not neatly in my lane. Publicly sharing opinions on social media — on almost any topic today — can open the door to negative comments from people looking for conflict or trolling, which are two things I try to avoid.
I have occasionally second-guessed or regretted shying away from sharing my opinion on some topics. I try to learn from those moments and encourage myself to speak up in the future.
In the case of the 2022 Oscars, I assume my experience has been somewhat different from most people in two areas in particular. Sure, Will Smith striking Chris Rock was 100% unacceptable. The continuation of the televised show and a standing ovation of a man who just hit a presenter was extremely disappointing.
At the same time, I’m fed up with hearing or seeing comments that make fun of people’s physical appearance or abilities. Maybe I’m more sensitive about it as someone who has faced extreme ridicule by my cyberstalker and harasser, although I don’t think I ever found such comments about anyone funny or acceptable.
We expect hosts and presenters to make jokes at these events, but I hope this experience will teach comedians to consider their material more carefully. Cheap jokes about people’s looks are easier, but spend more time on the material and do better.
On another personal note, it dawned on me since watching the event’s extended footage with Will Smith repeatedly shouting, “Keep my wife’s name out your f@#%ing mouth,” was that everyone who has experienced some form of public ridicule, defamation, or harassment has wanted someone to stand up for them with similar conviction or to have been able to shout a similar message themselves.
Keep my name — or anything you use to identify me — out of your mouth and off of your keyboard!
These words feel strong and empowering, but I haven’t said them until now. I chose not to engage my harasser other than sending her one message after I filed the first police report. Some people suggested I reply to her or even give her a taste of her own medicine. I refused because I believed her behavior was wrong and thought she would escalate matters. From nearly the beginning of my nightmare, she threatened me with physical violence. She claimed to have been following me and having others watching my every move, so I chose to avoid her online, in-person, and in every way possible.
During my ordeal, some people asked my harasser to stop, and some people even offered to help her connect with mental health resources. It didn’t make a difference, and I wasn’t surprised when I heard during the court proceedings that she had four prior convictions, including for death threats and harassment.
The 2022 Oscars would have ended much differently if Will Smith had only stood up for his wife with one verbal jab and let the ceremony continue without incident. He could have avoided the stain on his career and the 2022 Oscars. Some may have even applauded his speaking up for his wife as a modern-day form of chivalry.
Time will tell if Will Smith shares a more heartfelt and meaningful apology with Chris Rock, the Academy, and the public, and whether he seeks anger management or some other form of assistance to ensure this behavior does not repeat.