Will Smith slaps, swears at Chris Rock during live Oscars broadcast

The 94th Academy Awards on Sunday maintained a buoyant spirit until Will Smith took great offence to a joke by presenter Chris Rock about the best-actor nominee's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

Smith walks to stage after presenter Rock makes a joke, alluding to Jada Pinkett Smith's bald head

The 94th Academy Awards on Sunday maintained a buoyant spirit until Will Smith took great offence to a joke by presenter Chris Rock about the best-actor nominee's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

Rock was introducing the award for best documentary when he joked to Smith that he was looking forward to a sequel to G.I. Jane. Smith then stood up from his seat near the stage, strode up to Rock and slapped him.

After sitting back down, Smith shouted at Rock to "keep my wife's name out of your f--king mouth."

"That was the greatest night in the history of television," Rock said before going back to presenting the award for best documentary, which went to Questlove's Summer of Soul, about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. 

Following the telecast, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences posted a statement on Twitter saying "does not condone violence of any form."

"Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world," the tweet said. 

The incident between Smith and Rock shocked the Dolby Theatre audience in Los Angeles and viewers at home.

Before that, the show had been running fairly smoothly.

Rock's G.I. Jane comment was in reference to Pinkett's hair loss.

It's not the first time that Rock has targeted Pinkett, having made jokes at her expense when he hosted the Oscars in 2016, according to The Associated Press.

In 2018, the actress revealed she was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disorder.

She has frequently posted about her struggles with the condition on social media, and in July 2021, she and her daughter Willow shaved their heads.

Oscar speech references exchange

Roughly 40 minutes later, Smith referenced the moment while accepting the Academy Award for best actor, for his performance in King Richard, the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. 

"Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family," Smith said.

"I've been called on in my life to love people and to protect people, and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do, you got to be able to take abuse. And have people talk crazy about you. People disrespect you and smile like it's OK."

Later, Smith said actor Denzel Washington pulled him aside after the incident, telling him, "At your highest moment, be careful, that's when the devil comes for you."

"I wanna apologize to the academy, I wanna apologize to all my fellow nominees," Smith said through tears during his Oscar speech. He did not mention Rock's name in his apology.

In a statement to ABC News, the Los Angeles Police Department said they are aware of the incident and that Rock had declined to file a police report.

"If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report," the statement said.

Stars react to Smith-Rock encounter

The incident sparked a wave of commentary from celebrities, some of whom were at the Dolby Theatre during the slap in question.

At the Governor's Ball, an annual Oscars afterparty, many were reluctant to comment about the incident as they continued to process what happened on stage. Others took to social media.

Comedian Conan O'Brien, whose late-night television series ended last year, quipped on Twitter, "Just saw the Will Smith slap. Anyone have a late night show I can borrow just for tomorrow?"

In a series of since-deleted tweets, Knocked Up director Judd Apatow wrote that Smith demonstrated "pure out of control rage and violence," and claimed that he "could have killed" Rock. 

Speaking with a reporter after the show, Oscar nominee Lakeith Stanfield said the moment during the live broadcast was "surreal."

"I don't know," the Knives Out actor said. "It was crazy."

Rapper 50 Cent wrote several tweets referencing the altercation, including one with a photo of Smith slapping Rock, captioned, "B!tch don't you ever play with me. LOL"

Former One Direction member Liam Payne told U.K. news program Good Morning Britain, "I believe whatever he felt that he did, he had the right to do," adding he had to leave his chair because the moment "cut me really deep."

Actor Sophia Bush tweeted, "Violence isn't ok. Assault is never the answer. Also? This is the 2nd time that Chris has made fun of Jada on the #Oscars stage, & tonight he went after her alopecia. Punching down at someone's auto-immune disease is wrong. Doing so on purpose is cruel. They both need a breather."

Rapper Nicki Minaj tweeted she doesn't think Rock would have made the joke if he'd known about Pinkett Smith's condition, but expressed disbelief that no one on the Oscars producing team knew to stop him.

"You just got to witness in real time what happens in a man's soul when he looks over to the woman he loves & sees her holding back tears from a 'little joke' at her expense," Minaj said of Smith. "This is what any & every real man feels in that instant. while y'all seeing the joke he's seeing her pain."

The Card Counter star Tiffany Haddish made a similar statement in an interview with People magazine. Haddish co-starred with Pinkett-Smith in 2017's Girls Trip

"As a woman, who has been unprotected, for someone to say, 'Keep my wife's name out your mouth, leave my wife alone,' that's what your husband is supposed to do, right? Protect you," the comedian said.

Actor Jameela Jamil praised Smith on social media, while journalist Maria Shriver sided with Rock.

Daily Show host Trevor Noah had the same reaction as many watching the live telecast, tweeting, "[What the actual f**k]????? That wasn't scripted?????"

Noah and Smith later hugged and had a long private conversation at an Oscars afterparty, according to The Associated Press.

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press