By Jenice Armstrong
The Philadelphia Inquirer
On Oscar night, Will Smith posted on Instagram and said: “You can’t invite people from Philly or Baltimore nowhere!!”
And just like that, our most famous former resident made his bad behavior all about us.
C’mon, Will. Philly has more than enough problems without having to own your Oscar night assault of Chris Rock as a Philly thing.
We’ve got so many challenges — gun violence, poverty, and young people not wanting to move here. The last thing this city need is for its most famous former resident to embarrass us by demonstrating the kind of aggressive behavior that we’re trying to get young men in the streets to stop doing.
Don’t blame our city for you losing your cool.
What happened before, while, and after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock?
We don’t appreciate once again being the butt of tired jokes about how Philadelphians are classless and out of control. But because of Smith’s behavior on Sunday night, people are referencing an act of physical violence on national television saying, “we can’t take the West Philly out of Will Smith” and “Overbrook is in the building.” It’s bad enough that America will never let us forget that we’re the city that booed Santa Claus. We have such a bad reputation that after the Eagles’ 2018 Super Bowl win, some national media called the celebrations “riots.” Yes, some people broke the windows of Macy’s and flipped over cars, but the gatherings were largely very peaceful.
Philadelphians are trying hard to outlive our old image — but when our most famous son reminds the world about our own worst tendencies as a city, it makes it harder to move forward.
We admire you so much — not just for your efforts to create uplifting content and for being a positive role model and giving back in so many ways to your hometown. You went from being a rapper who didn’t curse in his lyrics to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. We respect that you did it while keeping your nice guy image and loving your beautiful family. Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony was supposed to have been your big night. It was your moment.
We claimed it as ours too. We were looking forward to celebrating Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, another Philly native who received an Academy Award for best documentary for Summer of Soul. You overshadowed that. We also wanted Oscar presenter Wanda Sykes, who resides part-time in Media in Delaware County, to shine while repping this area.
Instead, we got a stunning instance of pure male bravado. We’re not mad, but we’re disappointed in you. We expected more out of someone of your caliber.,
Granted, Rock crossed the line by making a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, when he mocked the actress for rocking a bald head. Pinkett Smith, who looked absolutely beautiful on Oscar night, suffers from alopecia and shaves her head to conceal it.
When a flash of annoyance washed over her face as Rock talked about her, Smith took up for her. It was an admirable gesture. Black women (all women, really) deserve to be protected when they’re being publicly ridiculed — but Smith took it way too far. After he headed back to his seat he yelled at Rock, telling him “keep my wife’s name out of your [expletive] mouth.”
That might be old Philly style, but we’ve moved past that.
Shortly after the incident, Smith was awarded Best Actor for his role in “King Richard,” portraying the impassioned father of Venus and Serena Williams. During his epic acceptance speech, with tears rolling down his face, he drew comparisons between himself and the complicated character he portrayed. “Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” he said.
“Art imitates life … I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things.”
He apologized to the Academy and to the Williams sisters. His remorse seemed genuine.
But there’s a time and a place for dealing with interpersonal conflicts, preferably off-camera without the whole world watching an icon lose his cool.
Will, you told Chris Rock to keep your wife’s name out of his mouth. Until you calm down and get yourself together, we’d appreciate it if you’d leave Philly’s out of yours.
(c)2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer