There are good hair days and there are bad hair days. This year’s Academy Awards telecast was one of the worst days, hair or otherwise.
Chris Rock’s Oscar joke comparing Jada Pinkett Smith to G.I. Jane really touched a nerve because alopecia is a very big deal. Jada Pinkett Smith has shared her alopecia journey and presented her authentic self, bald and beautiful, at public events; however, it’s still an issue that causes insecurity and and hurtful when it’s the butt of a joke.
Some saw Rock’s joke comparing her to 1997 movie character G.I. Jane, a female soldier who shaves her head as part of her full integration into the marines, as diminishing her femininity and therefore dehumanizing, while others saw the comparison as lighthearted and even empowering, an image not unlike the Black Panther‘s Dora Milaje warriors. Either way, the joke was offensive to Pinkett Smith and due to the alopecia issue, which Rock didn’t necessarily know about, it was received as being in poor taste.
Chris Rock has struck a nerve with Black women and hair in the past. His 2009 documentary Good Hair took a comical approach to understanding the multi-billion dollar hair care industry and Black women’s quest for desirable, socially accepted hair.
Whether or not Rock’s film, or the Oscar joke, landed well is up for debate. But Will Smith’s reaction took the hair question and shifted it to one of violence. “When Will Smith stormed onto the Oscar stage to strike Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife’s short hair, he did a lot more damage than just to Rock’s face. With a single petulant blow, he advocated violence, diminished women, insulted the entertainment industry, and perpetuated stereotypes about the Black community,” said basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about the incident.
“It is my feeling that the hashtag #ProtectBlackWomen is not a call to violence between Black men on the world stage over offensive jokes. It is a mantra to protect Black women and girls who go missing every year, who are unsafe in their places of work including hair salons, who face discrimination from jobs and school over their hairstyles, who suffer street harassment. It is a call to protect Black women in ways that do not continue more violence,” says Let’s Talk Hair creator and producer Olu Gittens. “And this is coming from some who understands the complexities of Black hair and feels very protective towards Black women. Violence is not a suitable response to a joke gone wrong.”
Let’s continue the conversation on hair, respectfulness, and humor while keeping in mind: just because a joke fails to land, that doesn’t mean a slap should.