Chris Rock has opened up for the first time about the infamous Oscars slap he received from Will Smith.
In a January set in Charleston, South Carolina in preparation for his upcoming Netflix special Selective Outrage, The Wall Street Journal reported that Rock, 58, talked about the incident that dominated the talk of the evening.
He said, ‘The thing people want to know . . . did it hurt? Hell yeah, it hurt;’ Rock also referenced their respective roles in the 2001 Smith film Ali and his 1991 movie New Jack City: ‘He played Muhammad Ali! I played Pookie!’
Rock added, according to The US Sun, ‘Even in animated movies, I’m a zebra, he’s a f***ing shark.’
Rock referenced one of Smith’s rap tracks, saying, ‘I got hit so hard I heard Summertime ringing in my ears.’
The special will air live on March 4 from Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre on the streaming service, a week ahead of this year’s Academy Awards broadcast on March 13.
The Oscars exchange between Smith and Rock took place after Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, saying, ‘Jada, I love you, G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it!’
The reference was to the 1997 movie which featured Demi Moore with a shaved head. (Pinkett Smith, 51, has diagnosed with alopecia, which causes hair loss.
The Philadelphia-born actor then walked onstage and smacked Rock, then returned to his seat and shouted at him twice, ‘Keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth!’ to a stunned audience.
Later in the evening – in his acceptance speech after winning the Best Actor Oscar for his role as tennis patriarch Richard Williams in King Richard – Smith apologized to the Academy and other nominees, but made no reference to Rock.
Smith subsequently apologized on multiple occasions over the incident, and resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ahead of being issued a 10-year ban from the Oscars.
In an apology he issued in July over the incident in an online clip, Smith said his spouse ‘had nothing to do with’ his attack on Rock.
‘I made a choice on my own from my own experiences, from my history with Chris,’ he said. ‘I want to say sorry to my kids and my family for the heat that I’ve brought on all of us. 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. 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.’
Chris Rock announces Netflix live special ‘Selective Outrage’
Last month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced it established a crisis team ahead of this year’s March 12 ceremony.
‘Because of last year, we’ve opened our minds to the many things that can happen at the Oscars,’ Academy CEO Bill Kramer told TIME.
Kramer said that the institution has implemented the organization of a group focused on handling emergency situations at the annual event.
He said: ‘We have a whole crisis team, something we’ve never had before, and many plans in place. We’ve run many scenarios. So, it is our hope that we will be prepared for anything that we may not anticipate right now but that we’re planning for just in case it does happen.’
Kramer said that the return of Jimmy Kimmel as host – the late night star previously hosted in 2017 and 2018 – adds another layer of protection in having a veteran entertainer at the helm of the show.
‘That’s why you want someone like Jimmy on stage who is used to dealing with live TV: Things don’t always go as planned,’ Kramer said. ‘So you have a host in place who can really pivot and manage those moments … because of last year, we’ve opened our minds to the many things that can happen at the Oscars.’
Kramer said that Academy officials ‘could have moved more quickly’ in their reactions to the incident involving Smith and Rock, both on the evening of the show and in the aftermath.
‘This is really our response after the show, and how we spoke about it, and how we talked to Will and Chris, and our hosts and our members,’ he said. ‘It was a moment to really bring people together.’