What Led to The Slap: The History Behind Will Smith and Chris Rock’s Relationship

Here's a look at everything that has led to the moment Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars after the comedian's Jada Pinkett Smith joke.

The History Between Will Smith, Chris Rock and Jada Pinkett Smith
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The History Between Will Smith, Chris Rock and Jada Pinkett Smith

Last night’s slap heard around the world wasn’t Will Smith being hysterical, it was historical. The 2022 Academy Awards was supposed to be the biggest night of the King Richard actor’s career, but it was quickly eclipsed when he slapped Chris Rock in the face during the show. The comedian was presenting an award when he made a G.I. Jane joke aimed at Jada Pinkett Smith, likely inspired by her shaved haircut. Smith walked onstage shortly after, striking Rock on his cheek, and yelled, “Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth.” While the trio appeared to be friendly at previous events, Rock has made jokes throughout his career at the Smiths’ expense, which could have potentially caused strain between them and likely exacerbated the Oscars situation. 

Chris Rock Will Smith Oscars Explainer

Looking back, the tense moment now feels like the culmination of a history of strife between the couple and the comedian. Rock previously stood on that same stage to host the 2016 Academy Awards and used Pinkett Smith’s Oscars boycott that year as a source of inspiration for his monologue, saying she wouldn’t have been invited to the event in the first place. Oscars attendees are well aware that they might become the targets of jabs from hosts and presenters during the show, but it seems like the confrontation between these two had been a long time coming. Here’s a look at the history between Chris Rock and the Smiths over the years that might have led to what is now one of the most-talked-about moments in the Academy’s history.

Chris Rock appears on 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'

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Date: September 1995

Chris Rock and Will Smith have been crossing paths since the start of their careers. Their working relationship doesn’t run as deep as their off-set disputes, but Rock did make an appearance on Season 6’s Episode 2 of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air titled “Get a Job.” He played dual roles, as a character named Maurice and his sister Jasmine, who Will had to go on a date with. The comedian also handed Smith his Best Rap Song Grammy in 1998 for “Men In Black,” and their hug onstage was a bit awkward. The Longest Yard actor also repeatedly said “Get outta here,” seemingly in disbelief, before giving the rapper his trophy. 

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The pair also appeared in the 1999 Spike Jonze mockumentary Torrance Rises. The two haven’t co-starred in any major film since, and that might be in part because Rock feels like Smith has taken roles from him in the past, something he joked about over a decade ago.

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Rock jokingly expressed his frustrations with having to compete against Smith throughout his career during an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman in March 2011. The comedian was talking about wanting a singing child, which Smith had done with his daughter, Willow. “That Will Smith messed it up for everybody. Kids singing and dancing. The guy has already taken parts from me, now his kids are taking parts from my kids,” Rock said. “It’s horrible. What the hell? Will Smith, don’t you have enough? Damn you, Will Smith.”

The comedian pokes fun at Smith's family dynamic

Date: November 2018

After Smith shared a picture of himself holding his oldest son, Trey Smith, with Trey’s mother Sheree Zampino in celebration of her birthday, captioning it “Happy Bday, @shereezampino. #BestBabyMamaEver! :-) I Love You, Ree-Re.” Rock commented under the Instagram post saying, “Wow. You have a very understanding wife.” Rock seemed to be referencing Smith being able to maintain a healthy relationship with someone he used to be involved with. Zampino later replied to Rock’s comment, saying “Don’t hate.” Smith didn’t reply to Rock at the time.

Chris Rock Instagram Comment Will Smith Ex


Jada Pinkett Smith's history with the Oscars

Date: January 2016

In 2016, Spike Lee and Pinkett Smith were among those who said they would not be attending the Oscars ceremony that year. The Oscars drew more criticism that year after all-white nominees were announced in all the major categories for the second year in a row, even after the #OscarsSoWhite social justice campaign took off the previous year. The Academy snubbed films and performances like Straight Outta Compton for Best Picture and Smith’s performance in the film Concussion in 2016. “Today is Martin Luther King’s birthday, and I can’t help but ask the question: Is it time that people of color recognize how much power, influence, that we have amassed, that we no longer need to ask to be invited anywhere?” she said in a Facebook video at the time.

“Begging for acknowledgment, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power. And we are a dignified people, and we are powerful,” she said. “So let’s let the Academy do them, with all grace and love. And let’s do us, differently.” She closed the video by expressing support for Rock, who was selected as that year’s Oscars host. “Hey, Chris. I will not be at the Academy Awards this year and I won’t be watching, but I can’t think of a better man to do the job at hand this year than you, my friend. Good luck!” she said.

Rock jokes about the actress in his 2016 Oscars monologue 

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Date: March 2016

Rock used his Oscars monologue to address why he hadn’t passed up on the opportunity while other influential Black stars had chosen to sit out the awards in order to demand equality. Instead of siding with them, he poked fun at the Set It Off actress for boycotting the show even after Pinkett Smith’s supportive Facebook message. “Jada got mad. Jada said she’s not coming. Protesting. Aren’t you on a TV show?” he said. “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited. It’s not an invitation I would turn down.” (Pinkett Smith had attended the awards show on previous occasions prior to that year.) Rock also alluded that the actress’s protest was due to Smith not being nominated for his role in Concussion. “Jada’s mad her man Will was not nominated for Concussion. I get it,” Rock said. “It’s also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for Wild Wild West.”

The Hawthorne star addressed the jokes when asked about them by the paparazzi. “Hey look, it comes with the territory, we gotta keep it moving,” she said. “We got a lot of stuff we gotta handle, a lot of stuff going on in our world right now. We gotta keep it moving.”

The actress opens up about struggling with alopecia

Date: December 2021

Pinkett Smith opened up on social media at the end of last year about her ongoing battle with alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. The actress took to Instagram where she shared that the disorder had begun making her lose a significant amount of hair, but said that instead of trying to hide it, she would be embracing it. “Now at this point, I can only laugh,” Pinkett Smith said as she laughed in her Instagram video. “Y’all know I’ve been struggling with alopecia and just all of a sudden one day, look at this line right here.”

Pinkett Smith also made light of her hair loss in the caption for her post, saying that she would need a lower haircut to blend the new line on her scalp, but that she wouldn’t let it bother her. “Mama’s gonna have to take it down to the scalp so nobody thinks she got brain surgery or something,” she wrote. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends … period!”

The actress first addressed the disorder back in 2018, speaking on her Facebook Watch show Red Table Talk about what it was like to suddenly start losing her hair. “It was terrifying when it first started,” Jada shared at the time. “I was in the shower one day and had just handfuls of hair in my hands and I was just like, ‘Oh my god, am I going bald?’” Jada has since embraced her hair loss and has become an advocate for others with the disorder to feel ashamed about looking different.

Will Smith slaps Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars 

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Date: March 27

The Smiths were in attendance at the 94th Academy Awards to celebrate multiple King Richard nominations. As one of the most famous couples in Hollywood, they are an easy target when it comes to the jokes presenters and hosts often deliver during awards shows. They were seated front and center during a bit co-host Regina Hall, who made it clear she was single at the start of the show, did about COVID-19 protocols where she pulled up single men onto the stage for further “testing.” She named Smith, saying that while he’s married, his wife had approved him to be on the list, seemingly poking fun at the longstanding rumors about the couple being in an open marriage. The pair laughed it off, and the night carried on. 

Chris Rock and Will Smith are seen onstage during the 94th Annual Academy Awards

It wasn’t until later on in the evening that Rock went onstage to present the award for the Best Documentary Feature category. The comedian made a joke about Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz, who are married, both being nominated on the same night, saying, “If she loses, he can’t win. He is praying that Will Smith wins.” He then turned to Pinkett Smith and said: “Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it.” The actress rolled her eyes at the remark, and the crowd gave a lukewarm reaction. “That was a nice one,” the comedian said defending his joke. Demi Moore famously shaved her hair off to star as US Navy Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil in 1997’s G.I. Jane. It was unclear whether he was making fun of the quality of movies Pinkett Smith acts in, the haircut, or a combination of both. Rock was then heard saying, “Uh oh,” as Smith walked onto the stage, slapped Rock in the face with an open hand, and then headed back to his seat. “Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me,” Rock said. Smith responded from the crowd, shouting “Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth,” twice. “Wow, dude. It was a G.I. Jane joke,” Rock added, visibly nervous. “I’m going to, OK? That was the greatest night in the history of television.” A reporter named Timothy Burke claimed that he had confirmed that Rock didn’t write the joke, and that “it came from the writing staff.”

Smith didn’t publicly apologize to Rock during the show

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Date: March 27

Smith apologized to the Academy during his acceptance speech after winning his award for Best Actor but didn’t mention the comedian. “I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to all of my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment, and I’m not crying for winning an award,” he said. “It’s not about winning an award for me; it’s about being able to shine a light on all of the people.”

A rep for the Los Angeles Police Department also confirmed that Rock declined to press charges against Smith over the incident. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the rep said. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved part desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

It’s still unclear whether the Academy will be taking any action on Smith, though, after the show posted a statement saying it “does not condone violence of any form,” and rumors began swirling that he might have to return his award.

Diddy says Will Smith and Chris Rock reconciled after the awards

Chris Rock Will Smith Oscars Explainer

Date: March 28 

While Smith open-hand smacking Rock in the face for disrespecting his wife on national television might have been making all of the headlines following the Oscars, Diddy shared that the two actors ended the night on good terms. According to Page Six, the rapper and business mogul told the outlet that Smith and Rock settled their differences after the show. “That’s not a problem. That’s over. I can confirm that,” Diddy said when asked about the status of the two’s relationship now. “It’s all love. They’re brothers.” However, another source told TMZ that the pair hadn’t spoken since the incident, and stated that Rock was unaware of the actress’s health condition.

P Diddy “ We”ll settle this like family at the after party” beef between Will Smith and Chris Rock #Oscars pic.twitter.com/4s8BsAAonJ

— Tesla Owners of Los Angeles (@TeslaTeamLA) March 28, 2022

Diddy also said during his time to present that he would make sure that Smith and Rock would reconcile at the after-party before the night was over. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve that like family at the gold party,” Diddy said. “But right now, we’re moving on with love.” During a commercial break, other actors like Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry were spotted pulling Smith aside for a conversation. During his acceptance speech, Smith mentioned that The Tragedy of Macbeth actor told him, “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.” 

Will Smith is banned from the Oscars for 10 years

Date: Apr. 8

The Oscar he won this year might be the actor’s last for quite some time. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors decided that Smith will not be able to attend the Oscars for 10 years. “The Board has decided, for a period of 10 years from April 8, 2022, Mr. Smith shall not be permitted to attend any Academy events or programs, in person or virtually, including but not limited to the Academy Awards,” said AMPAS president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson said. “We also hope this can begin a time of healing and restoration for all involved and impacted.” Smith reacted to the news with a short statement, saying: “I accept and respect the Academy’s decision.”

The ban took place after the Focus actor already resigned from The Academy earlier this month. The incident also started to affect other areas of his career, as it was reported that Netflix paused one of the projects they were working on with the movie star.

Chris Rock reveals he’ll talk about Oscars slap when he’s ready

When: April 10

A few days after Smith was banned from the annual show, Rock said he’ll talk about the incident when he’s ready. “I’m OK, I have a whole show and I’m not talking about that until I get paid. Life is good. I got my hearing back,” Rock said during his show at the Fantasy Springs Resort-Casino in Indio, California, per Deadline

And while Rock was keeping how he felt about the slap to himself, his family took a different approach. Rock’s brother Kenny shared his thoughts when speaking with TMZ. “I’ll let the hands do the talking,” he said.

Kenny also said he hopes the Academy keeps their word about Smith being banned for the next 10 years. “We have to see if he’s actually going to get the 10-year ban,” he said. “They might say a 10-year ban and after three years they’ll think we may have forgot about it and they’ll slide him in there after two years/ three years/ five years. So we have to make sure these people do what they say they’re going to do.”

Later that month, Rock’s mother Rose Rock sat down with local South Carolina news station WIS-TV to talk about the matter. “When Will slapped Chris, he slapped all of us,” she said. “But he really slapped me. When you hurt my child, you hurt me.”

"Red Table Talk" issues a statement about focusing on healing

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When: April 20

The Season 5 premiere of Pinkett-Smith’s show Red Table Talk, which featured guest Janelle Monàe, opened with a message about healing post-Oscars slap. “Considering all that has happened in the last few weeks, the Smith family has been focused on deep healing,” the opening message read. 

“Some of the discoveries around our healing will be shared at the table when the time calls. Until then the table will continue offering itself to powerful, inspiring and healing testimonies like that of our incredibly impressive first guest.”

Less than two months later, Pinkett-Smith addressed the situation in full on her show. She said she wants the two entertainers to work out their issues. “Now about Oscar night, my deepest hope is that these two intelligent, capable men have an opportunity to heal, talk this out and reconcile,” she said, after detailing her battle with alopecia. Rock seemingly poked fun at the disease during his Oscars’ appearance. 

“The state of the world today? We need them both. And we all actually need one another more than ever. Until then, Will and I are continuing to do what we have done for the last 28 years, and that’s keep figuring out this thing called life together. Thank you for listening.”

Will Smith apologizes in full-length video

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When: July 2022

The six-minute video was Smith’s second attempt at apologizing for the Oscars slap. In the clip, Smith said he was unable to get in contact with Rock directly. “I’ve reached out to Chris and the message that came back is that he’s not ready to talk and when he is, he will reach out,” he said. “So I will say to you, Chris, I apologize to you. My behavior was unacceptable and I’m here whenever you’re ready to talk.”

Smith also apologized to Rock’s mother and brother, explaining that he didn’t realize “how many people got hurt” by the moment.

Chris Rock responds to Will Smith’s apology video

When: September 2022

Rock explained that he wasn’t feeling Smith’s apology video. Per Deadline, Rock didn’t sugarcoat how he felt during a performance alongside Dave Chappelle at London’s O2 Arena. “Fuck your hostage video,” Rock said. “Yes, that shit hurt. He played [Muhammad] Ali.”

This wasn’t the first time Rock poked fun at the Oscars situation. Back in July, Rock joked that Smith’s actions were similar to that of Suge Knight’s. “Everybody is trying to be a fucking victim,” Rock said. “If everybody claims to be a victim, then nobody will hear the real victims. Even me getting smacked by Suge Smith…I went to work the next day, I got kids,” he said, according to Insider.

Smith would also poke fun at the situation in February 2023 with a TikTok video. Smith did a stitch with @missmoneyworking, where she shares how you can discover what inanimate objects think of you. At the end of the video, Smith picks up his Oscar trophy he won the year prior for Best Actor with a puzzled look.


Chris Rock rips Will Smith apart in Netflix special

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When: March 2023

On March 4, Rock opened up about Smith’s Oscars slap in full-length during his live Netflix special, Chris Rock: Selective Outrage. During his performance, Rock addressed people who have asked him whether or not Smith’s slap caused him actual harm. “It still hurts! I Got ‘Summertime’ ringing in my ears,” he said. “But I’m not a victim, baby...I took that hit like Pacquiao.” 

From there, Rock took aim at Pinkett-Smith, saying her husband had misguided anger. “But Will Smith practices selective outrage. Because everybody knows what the fuck happened. Everybody that really knows, knows I had nothing to do with that shit. I didn’t have any entanglements.”

Rock confessed that prior to the incident, he respected Smith and his career. However, all of that is out of the window. “I have rooted for Will Smith my whole life, I root for this motherfucker. And now, I watch Emancipation just to see him get whooped.” 

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