“The slap heard round the world”: Will Smith, Chris Rock, and the sins of the Oscars

Considering the explosive reaction that has happened since ABC’s 2022 showing of the Oscars, I don’t think the whole episode with Will Smith and Chris Rock needs much introduction.  

Everyone has thrown their hat in the ring, giving their opinion on who’s right and who’s wrong. I have my own feelings on the ethics of “the slap heard around the world,” but I think there’s a larger issue to address. To put it into perspective, the ratings for this year’s show clocked in at 16.6 million viewers. That’s in comparison to 2021’s 10.4 million viewers.  

Even compared to last year’s record low, the viewing is still pitiful considering its trending decline over the years. The fact that initial reactions to Smith slapping Rock amounted to “Wait, was that staged?” speaks volumes.  

The Academy Awards are held in such low regard, the general public’s first thought was its a publicity stunt. A look back at the show’s history only makes this more depressing.  

The ceremony was founded by Louis B. Mayer, of MGM Studios, in 1927. He founded it because he wanted to unite the various branches of the film industry: actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers. 2022’s showcase couldn’t be any further from that. From the Smith and Rock debacle alone, the achievements of so many talented filmmakers were overshadowed.  

CODA, a landmark film representing deaf culture, took home the award for best picture. One of its stars, Troy Kutsur, was also the first deaf man to win an academy award for acting. Not only that, but it was the first film from a streaming service to win best picture, further legitimizing the platform’s viability.  

Despite this, these achievements were completely drowned out by a celebrity smackdown. Let’s also not forget the show snubbed various awards for technical categories from the main event like sound and production design, with a half-hearted effort to reincorporate them after public backlash.  

And finally, animated films continue to be put down by the industry. It’s already bad enough they’re treated as a monolith, despite the medium producing a variety of genres. Now, you have recent hosts belittling the work of talented artists as nothing more than a tool for parents to distract their children.  

Does any of this sound like the unifying of filmmaking branches that was envisioned all those decades ago? The Academy needs to decide. On one hand, they can choose to cultivate an environment of mutual respect for members of all filmmaking disciplines. On the other, they can choose to headline next