Will Smith’s slap heard around the world stole headlines from a banner year for black, Asian and diverse film from Oscar winners like “CODA” with a primarily deaf cast, Jane Campion as only the third woman to win Best Director for “Power of the Dog” which swept up many awards and Smith’s own win for Best Actor in “King Richard”. In addition successes like “Bling Empire” were featured heavily at the red, or shall I say, purple carpet at Griot’s after party in West Hollywood, CA.
At the red carpet, I captured reactions that ranged from defending Will to condemning his outbursts. In the end, most were dismissive for good reason as that simple act took oxygen away from many hardworking industry professionals.
But for many viewers, people also saw this as the first news that even made them pay attention to Hollywood, which has steadily been losing eyeballs over the years. Some even thought this was staged. So all is good in the end - Chris Rock declined to pursue charges and now rides a wave to doubling ticket prices for his latest tour. The mood at the Griot red carpet, however, was more serious. For many shows and talent in the diverse crowd, this was finally their moment to shine.
Jabari Banks, who plays Will Smith’s character in the rebooted “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” spoke to me exclusively about the slap heard around the world. “I have mixed feelings about this. Coming from a military family, the rules are to leave women and children out of it. Violence is never the answer for anything but Will was standing up for his wife and that anger came from a Godly place.”
Ed Blount, former NFL 49ers quarterback, now-businessman, attended the Oscars and expressed disappointment at Will Smith’s actions. “Black people complained about not getting a seat at the table for years and when we finally do, Will Smith does this and sets us back. Chris Rock was such a class act handling things the way he did.” He thinks the move was not wise all around, for either Will or the greater black community.
This was a night to honor the achievements of iconic minority film makers and the honorees included Phylicia Rashad (pictured), Cheech Marin, host Cedric The Entertainer and Renee Lawless.
Also in attendance was Miss California USA 2021, Sabrina Lewis, who chose to share the spotlight with her philanthropic causes, specifically equestrian therapy. “I have been a competitive equestrian pretty much my entire life. So right now I volunteer with Best Buddies, which is an organization for people with disabilities.”
Miss Black California USA Autumn Rae said, “I really want to be a change in my community, which is Lancaster, California. There are a lot of underprivileged children. I was a child who didn't have the resources to have dance lessons or singing lessons or anything like that. And music is a way that you can express yourself. So when you have an outlet, it really does make a world of a difference.”
Kevin Kreider, star of Bling Empire, spoke about the breakthrough of Asian majority cast productions. “Well, it's really about diversity, which is amazing. I'm used to normally celebrating just within the Asian community. So the fact that I can break out of those that sandbox and celebrate with other communities and play with other people and other sandboxes is amazing, I love that.”
Renee Lawless from Have & Have Nots said, “I know that it's kind of cliche, but I just don't understand how I got in this beautiful group of people that I truly admire. So I feel proud and clearly they've included me. I'm a white chocolate so I guess I am a person of color. I think inclusivity is definitely needed.”
Finally Cheech Marin told us exclusively about the diversity in the Oscars, “everything should change after tonight. I’ve been waiting for this all my life.” He also said he was most looking forward to the steak at the BOA after party and simply, a nice drink.
Marc Ang (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a community organizer in Southern California and the founder of Asian Industry B2B. He is connected in Hollywood and dabbles in entertainment journalism as he observes its effect on the greater culture explored in his book "Minority Retort", released in 2022.