The King Richard star took the stage following Rock's joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock, who also poked fun at Pinkett Smith when he hosted the Oscars in 2016, made a joke about G.I. Jane 2 in reference to her bald head. Pinkett Smith has spoken openly about how alopecia has affected her confidence and how she has struggled with not being able to grow her hair since her diagnosis in 2018.
At first, Pinkett Smith rolled her eyes at the joke while Smith appeared to laugh it off. Moments later, he walked to the stage and struck Rock in a move that some people initially assumed was staged. It was not. After returning to his seat, he yelled at Rock twice: “Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science pressed on with the ceremony, and Smith went on to win his first Oscar for Best Actor. The academy later posted a statement on Twitter that said it "does not condone violence of any form" hours after the event ended.
According to Vanity Fair reporter Rebecca Ford, Denzel Washington "pulled Will aside" to talk to him and later comforted Pinkett Smith. Bradley Cooper and Tyler Perry also appeared to express support for Smith.
Some of the most notable reactions from celebrities were immediate. Lupita Nyong'o, who was sitting behind Smith when he returned to his seat post-smack, appeared shocked.
That viral photo of an excited Nicole Kidman — which was widely shared and alluded to as her response to the smack — was actually taken at the start of the ceremony, according to Reuters.
Liam Payne, a British singer who said he used to be Smith's neighbor, told a reporter for Good Morning Britain, "Whatever he did, he had the right to do." (Payne later made headlines for an unexpectedly American accent during this interview.)
Celebrities were as divided as everyone over the smack. Some criticized Rock for the joke and Smith for getting physical.
Director Judd Apatow went viral for a tweet about how he thought Rock could have died from the smack: "He could have killed him. That's pure out of control rage and violence." Apatow later deleted the tweet after a wave of backlash.
Others were more supportive of Smith. Tiffany Haddish, who starred in Girls Trip with Pinkett Smith, told People that it "meant the world" to her to see Smith protect his wife.
"And maybe the world might not like how it went down, but for me, it was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen because it made me believe that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives," Haddish said.
"You just got to witness in real time what happens in a man’s soul when he looks over to the woman he loves & sees her holding back tears from a 'little joke' at her expense," she wrote. "This is what any & every real man feels in that instant. while y’all seeing the joke he’s seeing her pain."
Jaden Smith also appeared to support his father after the ceremony ended. "And That's How We Do It," he wrote on Twitter.
Others were confused.
Serena Williams was extremely involved in the making King Richard, as daughter to the real-life Richard Williams — whom Smith played in the film — and as executive producer on the movie.
In an apparent response to the altercation between Smith and Rock, Williams posted an Instagram story in which she said she had to put her drink down, then looked wide-eyed into the camera as the audience applauded in the background.
Drake posted a photo to his Instagram story of Smith as the genie in the 2019 live-action Aladdin movie without explanation.