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New York Times contributing opinion writer Roxane Gay said on Tuesday that her main takeaway from Will Smith’s altercation with Chris Rock at the Oscars was the impact of seeing “a black woman being defended.”
The 94th Academy Awards were cut short on Sunday night when actor Will Smith came on stage to slap comedian Chris Rock when the latter made a joke about Smith’s wife. The moment faced widespread condemnationbut Gay said Smith’s reaction, while fake, resonated with her.
“Violence is never the answer, but I’m not angry,” she said Tuesday when asked about the incident on a New York Times podcast. “I’m just not. I was shocked when it happened. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life, and hope I never see anything like this again, but I get it. I understand it all around.”
She added: “Given everything that’s going on in the world, I just can’t bring myself to be outraged by this.”
“Given everything that’s going on in the world, I just can’t bring myself to be outraged by this.”
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Gay said that while she does not support the normalization of violence as a justified reaction to comedy, she rejected the idea that comedians can joke about anything they want.
“This idea that we’re all supposed to have the thickest skin in the world all the time so comedians can do whatever they want — well, I reject that,” she said.
“Yes. So, it was violent, and is violence unacceptable? Absolutely,” she continued. “But Jada Pinkett Smith has alopecia. They were sitting right there in the front row. And comedians are free to say whatever they want, they’re free to say whatever they want, but as I I’ve already written, it doesn’t work.” happen in a vacuum, and they’re not free of people reacting the way they react.
She added, “The main conclusion for me was, indeed, seeing a black woman being defended, especially after a week of trial with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, and really no one was defending her.”
Gay doubled down on her defense of Smith in an op-ed in The Times on Tuesday, where she praised Jada Pinkett for flaunting “thin skin” in a world where joke topics should “turn the other cheek.”
“It should be obvious that the targets of jokes and insults have every right to react and respond,” writes Gay. “There is a strange idea that there is nobility in tolerating or, better yet, enjoying humor that attacks who you are, what you do or what you look like – only with the freedom to expression comes the obligation to turn the other cheek, to rise up, to laugh out loud.”
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“Mr. Smith most likely saw his wife’s pain, and it’s possible he himself experienced a moment of frailty, thin skin…I can see how Mr. Smith might not have been able to come to terms with this joke, at his wife’s expense, given the layers of context and public and private stories leading up to this evening.”
MSNBC’s Joy Reid praised Gay’s column on Twitter, linking to what she called an “exquisite essay on #theslap.”