The on-stage attack was in response to a joke the 58-year-old comedian made about the actor’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock compared the actress’s shaved head to G.I. Jane, the 1997 film for which Demi Moore famously sheared her long locks.
The incident was a bad look for both Rock and Smith, with the latter’s public image taking a hit as a result. However, Pinkett Smith’s interview with People magazine has fans wondering if there’s more to the story.
In the interview, published on October 11, the actress talked about the infamous slap, as well as her 26-year marriage to the Fresh Prince star, whom she wed in 1997 and secretly separated from in 2016 (although the pair are still legally married).
The 52-year-old recalled a phone call with Rock, whom both Pinkett Smith and her husband have worked with over the years. The conversation took place one summer, when the couple was surrounded by divorce rumors.
“He called me and basically he was like, ‘I’d love to take you out,'” the Nutty Professor star said.
“And I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ He was like, ‘Well, aren’t you and Will getting a divorce?’ I was like, ‘No. Chris, those are just rumors.'”
Rock “profusely apologized” for his mistake at the time, but fans suggested that the Academy Awards’ slap was about more than just the G.I. Jane joke.
“Oh now The slap situation is beginning to make sense,” said X user LOLO.
“Spent years wondering what actually caused that slap. Now I know, damn,” wrote @papiitiino.
“So Chris rock actually deserved that slap,” said Collins.
“I knew that slap had a back story,” said Dandora Date, while Damon Gonzalez commented: “Things are clearer now.”
Smith and Rock have worked on projects together in the past, beginning with the comedian’s 1995 cameo in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Previously known for his rap career, the sitcom made Smith a household name. Rock appeared in the season six episode “Get a Job” in a dual role as actor Maurice Perry and his sister Jasmine.
The pair then appeared together in the 1999 Spike Jonze mockumentary Torrance Rises, while Pinkett Smith co-starred with Rock in the animated film Madagascar (2005) and its sequels Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008) and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012).
The GI Jane joke wasn’t the first time Rock has mentioned Pinkett Smith in an Oscars monologue. While hosting the 2016 ceremony, Rock poked fun at the actress’s decision to skip the event, implying she was irrelevant.
“Jada said she’s not coming, protest. I was like, ‘Isn’t she on a TV show?'” he said. “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”
At the 2022 Academy Awards, Rock told the crowd: “Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it, all right?”
However, Pinkett Smith—who struggles with alopecia—seemed unamused. In response to the jibe, Smith jumped on stage and slapped Rock live on TV, stunning the stand-up star and the audience.
“Oh wow,” he said. “Will Smith just smacked the s*** out of me.”
“Keep my wife’s name out your f****** mouth!” Smith screamed after returning to his seat, to which Rock responded: “Wow, dude, it was a G.I. Jane joke.”
The 55-year-old issued an apology for the attack on social media, but that didn’t stop his marriage from becoming gossip fodder, or prevent his movie Emancipation from flopping both critically and at the box office.
In her upcoming memoir Worthy, released on October 17, Pinkett Smith confessed that she and Smith have been living separate lives for almost seven years. The former couple share children Jaden Smith, 25, and Willow Smith, 22.
Newsweek has reached out to Chris Rock, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith for comment via email.