Voices: Chris Rock is wrong about Jada Pinkett Smith

In the immediate aftermath of the 2022 Oscar slap that rocked the world, early internet conversations worked tirelessly to place the blame. Every second of the clip was dissected, and every scenario was considered. Some argued that Will Smith’s actions were justified, that he was only trying to defend Jada Pinkett Smith against Chris Rock’s tasteless joke about her alopecia. Others felt that, in the name of comedy, Rock had every right to say what he did for a punchline. Now, a year later, and Rock has redirected the conversation to point fingers at Pinkett Smith, claiming “she started it”.

Over the weekend, Rock hosted Netflix’s first-ever live stand-up set, Selective Outrage, where he jokingly questioned Meghan Markle’s “racism claims” against the royal family, thirsted over Beyoncé – “the finest motherf***er” – and, of course, directly addressed being “smacked by Suge Smith”. However, when it came time for him to speak about the latter, Rock took the time to childishly blame Pinkett Smith for the incident.

“Everybody f***ing knows. Yes, it happened. I got smacked like a year ago at the f***ing Oscars by this motherf***er,” he acknowledged. He then went on to share undisclosed details about a time he says Pinkett Smith tried to persuade him to quit hosting the 2016 Oscars. According to Rock, she was upset over the Academy’s snub of Smith’s starring lead in sports drama Concussion. “She said a f***ing grown-ass man should quit his job because her husband didn’t get nominated for Concussion. And then this n**** gives me a f***ing concussion,” Rock recalled.

At the time, Jada Pinkett Smith and numerous Hollywood stars boycotted the 2016 ceremony due to the lack of diversity among that year’s nominees. This prompted the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. Rock, however, ignored Jada’s request and went on to host the awards show. While emceeing the event, Rock addressed the boycott, quipping: “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”

Six years later, Rock again took aim at Pinkett Smith, this time referencing her bald appearance due to alopecia, which he since insisted he had no prior knowledge of. “Jada, I love you GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see it,” the comedian laughed. Immediately after, Will Smith walked on stage and smacked Rock across the face.

Reflecting on the altercation, Rock wrongly considered: “Nobody’s picking on her. She starts it; I finish it.”

The entire situation is far more nuanced than simply saying Smith is guilty and Rock is blameless. This was an offensive comment, escalated unnecessarily by violence, clearly surrounded by a host of history and context. However, bringing Pinkett Smith deeper into this mess and placing her at the heart of it is just plain lazy. Almost as lazy as making fun of somebody’s appearance for the sake of comedy. I’m of the belief that comedy is an art form intended to bring joy and make people laugh, not to tear others down. I don’t care if Rock wasn’t aware of Pinkett Smith’s alopecia beforehand; he had about as much right to make fun of a Black woman’s lack of hair as Smith had the right to walk up and slap Rock across the face.

A year later, claiming that his JI Jane remark was intended to shut down a so-called feud she “started” years ago is not the succinct comeback he may have intended. I’m sorry to tell you, Chris Rock, but I would argue that you didn’t “finish it”, Will Smith finished it for you.