Will Smith Slapping Chris Rock Will Always Remind Me of Billy Batts's Death in 'Goodfellas'

When Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars, a good spot of tailoring allowed his arm to the full range of graceful motion from his hip to Rock's cheek.

Will Smith is seen slapping Chris Rock at the Academy Awards

Image via Getty/ROBYN BECK/AFP

Will Smith is seen slapping Chris Rock at the Academy Awards

There are two very important arcs of movement in the 29 seconds between Chris Rock telling an alopecia-balded Jada Pinkett Smith, “G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it,” and Will Smith screaming up at the Oscars stage, “Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth.” There’s Jada rolling her eyes, and there’s Will rolling his right hand up from his hip and through to the space on the other side of Chris’ left cheek. But there are also two very important absences of movement, located in the point where the lapels of two men’s jackets touched their shirts. I hope their stylists have framed photos of The Slap in their offices.

The Feb. 3, 1997 issue of New York Magazine points out just how tremendous an achievement was at hand that night. A blurb in a section about local artisans opens with the tailor Frank Shattuck watching a TV rerun of Goodfellas. Specifically, it’s the scene where Tommy (Joe Pesci) and Jimmy (Robert De Niro) reduce Billy Batts (Frank Vincent) to scarlet goo. “Look at De Niro’s suit!” Shattuck instructs. “He’s jumping around like a maniac, but the back of his suit collar doesn’t move an inch.” 

That’s the importance of good fit. It’s not about how closely a piece of clothing hugs your body but about how well it facilitates your body doing what it does. (Remember when the NBA tried putting players in sleeved jerseys and LeBron James ripped his sleeve off that one time because he was having a bad shooting night?) In Will’s case, his body was efficiently avenging his wife’s honor. 

Will Smith Jacket Oscars

In Chris’ case, his body fully ate a blow that, in Judd Apatow’s words, “could have killed him.” Can you imagine what would have happened if all the transferred energy in that moment had left their suits rumpled, sagging, or ripped? Some of the focus we gave to the violence of The Slap, its causes, and its implications would have been diverted into talk of how bad they looked on top of everything else. Remember how much people were talking about Donald Trump’s tie tape?

As Will Smith walked calmly back to his seat after he delivered his five-fingered rebuke—because he knew that Chris Rock, despite squaring his feet and tensing his arms just a smidgen, was not going to do anything about what had just happened but think of wack jokes to tell a year later—you see him tug his waistcoat a little. But it doesn’t seem like the kind of movement designed to actually move anything. Instead, it seemed more about confirming that indeed nothing had moved. Because his tailor did a good job.

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