Here's what it was like to be in the room when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock

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This Will Smith describes himself as a "dad + husband" and "notthatwillsmith."
This Will Smith describes himself as a "dad + husband" and "notthatwillsmith."
Twitter, Getty Images
  • I attended the 94th Academy Awards Ceremony as a seat filler this year in 2022.
  • The room fell eerily silent and confused during the Will Smith and Chris Rock altercation.
  • Here's what it was like to be an audience member.
  • For more stories visit Business Insider.

I attended the 94th Academy Awards Ceremony as a seat filler and witnessed actor Will Smith slap comedian Chris Rock on stage following a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's hair loss.

Up until the Smith-Rock confrontation, attendees at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood were in constant motion — with seat fillers jumping up to plug in empty spaces as other attendees ran to the restroom or decided to hang out in the bar or other common areas.

Throughout the show, there were bouts of applause, laughter, and occasional chatter, but the mood shifted after the confrontation, which happened approximately two and a half hours into the ceremony.

"Jada, I love you. 'GI Jane 2,' can't wait to see it," Rock said on stage appearing to reference Pinkett-Smith's green gown and cropped hair. 

The audience laughed, as they did throughout the show with other jokes that may have been controversial or came at the expense of others — such as Regina Hall's skit where she felt up Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa under "safety protocols" and Amy Schumer's skit referring to Kirsten Dunst, a nominee for Best Supporting Actress, as a seat filler.

Though the live broadcast was being played in the theatre, I was seated in the back center of the first-floor audience, so it wasn't until after the show that I saw that Smith's initial reaction was to laugh, while Pinkett-Smith's expression showed disapproval.

But I did see what happened next: Smith stormed the stage and slapped Rock in the face.

The room immediately fell into confusion as guests questioned the authenticity of the moment — some, at first, thinking it was part of a skit.

"Oh wow," Rock seemingly said in shock. "Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me."

The audience laughed after Rock's comment but had gone completely silent when Smith shouted twice at Rock: "Keep my wife's name out your fucking mouth."

The moment was brief but tense. It would remain on everyone's minds throughout the evening despite the show moving forward. 

The feeling in the room had changed — some were visibly uncomfortable, and others were confused. In their seats, guests spoke to one another about the moment throughout the show.

Three others nearby and I discussed having to regain our composure. I was completely shaken up — anticipating that Smith would be thrown out of the event. 

Canadian actress Amy Forsyth, who played Gertie in Best Picture-winning "CODA" and was seated in front of me, was visibly in shock by the altercation.

Another attendee condemned Smith told me that violence is unacceptable. Two others nearby were initially confused by the slap, but then brought up Jada Pinkett Smith's struggle with alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss.

Others continued to wonder if the incident was staged, with a mixed reaction about whether thought Smith's reaction was understandable or to be scolded.

Audience members in the back of the house were able to see guests approach Smith throughout the show. Pillars in Black entertainment such as Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry spoke to him following the incident.  

Not even a half-hour later, Smith was awarded an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in "King Richard."

He addressed the incident in his acceptance speech.

"I'm being called on in my life to love people," Smith said. "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. You got to be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you got to be able to have people disrespecting you. And you have to smile and you've got to pretend that's OK," he added.

The crowd seemed moved by his speech and responded with a standing ovation.

By the end of the night, attendees headed off to their respective after-parties — while television viewers remained abuzz about the unexpected awards show slap.

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