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Jay Leno is weighing in on Will Smith’s behavior at the Oscars, where he slapped Chris Rock across the face for a joke he made about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s bald head.
The former “Tonight Show” host described the “King Richard” actor as a “good guy” but admitted the behavior he displayed on live television during the 94th Academy Awards was “disturbing.” However, to Leno, the slap wasn’t the part that shocked him the most.
“To me, the thing that’s most disturbing wasn’t the slap, because he was kind of smirking after he slapped [Rock],” Leno said to the Palm Beach Daily News this week.
“It was the yelling of the obscenities. Then you go, ‘Whoa. What’s going on here? This is real anger,'” the comedian said.
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“Jada, I love you. ‘GI Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it, all right?” Rock, 57, had joked, referring to the 1997 film “GI Jane,” starring Demi Moore, who shaved her head to portray a fictional Navy SEAL candidate.
Pinkett Smith, 50, revealed in 2018 that she was diagnosed with alopecia. The actress has often discussed the challenges of hair loss on Instagram and other social media platforms.
The joke missed, badly.
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Smith, 53, walked onto the stage from his front-row seat and took a swing at Rock with an open palm, generating a loud smack. Smith walked back to his seat and shouted for Rock to leave Pinkett Smith alone. Rock replied that he was just making a “GI Jane” joke — and Smith yelled back at him a second time.
Smith shouted at Rock to “keep my wife’s name out of your f—ing mouth,” and the crowd hushed as it became clear this was no act.
The moment shocked the Dolby Theater audience and viewers at home. At the commercial break, presenter Daniel Kaluuya went up to hug Smith, and Denzel Washington escorted him to the side of the stage. The two talked and hugged and Tyler Perry came over to talk as well.
The incident led to an investigation conducted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Leno shared his opposition to the investigation.
“What are you investigating?,” Leno said. “It had to be the most recorded assault in history. I saw the back of his shoe, I saw Chris’ ear. There were so many cameras on this incident. What are you investigating? I know sometimes things are just what they appear to be.”
Ultimately, the academy announced its decision to ban Smith from the Oscars for 10 years. The decision came after a meeting of the academy’s board of governors to discuss a response to Smith’s actions. A week before the meeting, the actor resigned from the academy.
“The 94th Oscars were meant to be a celebration of the many individuals in our community who did incredible work this past year; however, those moments were overshadowed by the unacceptable and harmful behavior we saw Mr. Smith exhibit on stage,” the board of governors said in a letter.
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“During our telecast, we did not adequately address the situation in the room. For this, we are sorry. This was an opportunity for us to set an example for our guests, viewers and our academy family around the world, and we fell short — unprepared for the unprecedented.
“Today, the board of governors convened a meeting to discuss how best to respond to Will Smith’s actions at the Oscars, in addition to accepting his resignation. 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.
“We want to express our deep gratitude to Mr. Rock for maintaining his composure under extraordinary circumstances. We also want to thank our hosts, nominees, presenters and winners for their poise and grace during our telecast.
“This action we are taking today in response to Will Smith’s behavior is a step toward a larger goal of protecting the safety of our performers and guests and restoring trust in the academy. We also hope this can begin a time of healing and restoration for all involved and impacted.”
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“I accept and respect the academy’s decision,” Smith said in a statement following the verdict.
Smith announced his resignation in a statement April 1, saying he had “betrayed the trust of the academy.” Smith added that he “deprived other nominees and winners” of their chance to celebrate, and said he will accept any further consequences from the board.
Smith first apologized for his actions minutes after slapping Rock, when he received his award for best actor for his role in “King Richard.”
“I want to apologize to the academy. I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees,” Smith said. “This is a beautiful moment.”
Smith apologized once again in an Instagram post the following day, tagging the comedian.
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“Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive,” Smith wrote. “My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally. I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”
Rock has yet to publicly share his thoughts on the incident. However, in his first comedy show after the Oscars in Boston, he told a crowd he’s “still kind of processing what happened.”
“At some point, I’ll talk about that s—, and it will be serious, and it will be funny,” Rock shared.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.