How do you solve a problem like The Slap? Before the 2023 Oscars there was speculation about how organizers and presenters would deal with elephant Will Smith in the room. Would they have tried to turn a blind eye to hoping this year’s ceremony would take place without any reference to celeb violence? There would have been a sincere Public Service Announcements on the lessons learned? Well, if Will Smith—who has been banned from the ceremony for 10 years—was watching the show from home yesterday ready to take a drink whenever he was mentioned, today he won’t have much of a hangover.
This year’s host, Jimmy Kimmel, didn’t dare mention the Smiths. Instead, 11 minutes into the ceremony, he kicked off various Slapgate references with a quip making sure everyone felt safe: “We want you to have fun, feel safe and most importantly, that I feel safe,” he said during his opening monologue. “If anyone in this theater commits an act of violence at any point in the show, they will be awarded the Academy Award for Best Performer and will be able to give a 19-minute speech.”
Greeted with enthusiastic laughter, Kimmel then continued: “If something unpredictable or violent happens during the ceremony, do what you did last year: nothing. Remain seated and do absolutely nothing. Maybe even hug the aggressor” .
Below the host closed his speech with a list of people someone would have to go through to get to him, including Michael B. Jordan (as Adonis Creed) and Michelle Yeoh of Everything everywhere all at once. “If any of you get mad at a joke and decide to come here and play tough, it’s not going to be easy,” he said.
The slap was only mentioned three more times, and each time it was Kimmel.
Before introducing Riz Ahmed and Questlove to present the Best Documentary award, Kimmel reminded the audience that this was the category Chris Rock was presenting at the time of the “skirmish”. “Hopefully this time everything goes smoothly, or at least without Hitch‘ she said, referring to the 2005 romantic comedy starring Will Smith. ‘Please join hands and then hold them,’ she added, before Ahmed and Questlove took the stage.
Later, when introducing Elizabeth Olsen and Pedro Pascal to present two of the short film categories, he quipped, “You’re kind of missing the slapstick at this point in the show, aren’t you?”
Then, as the ceremony concluded, he thanked the organizers and crew and congratulated the ‘crisis team’ for their ‘great job’. As he left the stage, he walked past a sign that read “Number of Oscars Broadcast Without Incident” and flipped over a card that read “One.”
Smith himself has broached the subject of Slapgate several times over the past year. He first confronted him that evening after he won the Best Actor award, delivering a heartbreaking speech in which he apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees. He later posted a formal video apology on YouTube, acknowledged it had been a “horrible night,” and most recently joked about the incident on TikTok, pretending to ask his 2022 Oscar what he thinks of him. Last night, ahead of the Oscars, he has tweeted: “I think I’ll watch the ceremony from home this year.”
Chris Rock, on the other hand, barely hinted at the incident, once telling a live audience, “I’m not talking about it until I get paid.” True to his word, the comedian shared his first real response to The Slap in his new Netflix special, Selective Outrage. Here he stated that Smith was taking his personal anger towards his wife out on him and joked that he now enjoys watching the actor’s woes on screen: “Now I look Emancipation – Beyond freedom just to see him beaten,” he said. Finally, he answered questions about why he didn’t take revenge: “Do you know what my parents told me? Don’t fight in front of whites.”
Ultimately, everyone has done well this year, especially when it came to joking. Sure, it was nice to see everyone getting along, but never say never, Will Smith could celebrate his return with another slap in the face. Only nine years to go.