For me, Hollywood isn’t a state of mind. It’s the place where, 30 years ago, “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark” rented me my first Los Angeles apartment. It’s where Brad Pitt's weed guy came to the crib off LaBrea with a briefcase full of selections; cannabis swag like I’d never seen. Until the COVID-19 shutdown, I could see “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” skits being crafted on the way to my subway stop.
That’s why the 2022 Oscars, where Will Smith slapped Chris Rock, has me watching network television tonight. When the big local industry’s self-fellation fest gets marred by violence, it hits me where I live. The Academy Awards show is a social institution worth millions of dollars a year to ABC. Hundreds of career arcs are at stake. While awards for art don’t make sense to me, I fully appreciate that the Oscars matter.
Will Smith’s violence, and distinguished Black people fighting, is not what obsesses me. Here’s what does: After Smith turned himself into the worst Ayahuasca spokesman ever, the 323’s cinema elite sat for a half hour or so, digested what it had just seen-and decided to applaud the Black movie star who had assaulted a smaller Black celebrity on stage. Totally embarrassing, like trying to explain L.A.’s volume of houselessness to visiting relatives who fear you have lost your soul.
Whatever happens at tonight’s industry party, my famously phony town shall not be outrunning the notion that its dysfunction is a feature and not a bug. The Slap — and its immediate slap-termath — are just that indelible. They deserve a special star at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.
Oscars meeting to discuss Will Smith sanctions expedited after actor resigns The atmosphere in the Dolby Theatre shifted dramatically after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock during the 2022 Oscars. (Robyn Beck AFP/File)
The idea that Will Smith was universally well-liked around town is Hollywood confection. A Will Smith story I have from one of Dr. Dre’s old-school lieutenants goes like this:
Dr. Dre assisted in music supervision on the Will Smith film Bad Boys. The L.A. hip hop great had such distaste for Smith that he surreptitiously laid his track “B*tch N*ggas” beneath a frame featuring Will. Viewers of the Chris Rock Netflix special Selective Outrage cannot help the relish with which he tattooed the b-word onto the action film star. It is a label that L.A. people not on the actor’s payroll have long applied to Will Smith, for better or worse.
Downtown tonight at the Dolby Theater, a crisis management team will be in the house, “to quickly navigate any potential real-time emergency.” The best way to have managed Will Smith would have been not coddling the dude until he had the biggest personality-to-image gap this side of Rock Hudson or Nancy Reagan.
If Will Smith spearheads getting homeless off the streets of L.A., but doesn’t tell anybody, then he can come from Q-ratings Siberia. Los Angeles needs a PR reduction program like world powers treat dangerous nukes. A moratorium on public relations in the film businesses is probably never going to happen. But there, too, was a time we local folk thought the casting couch an inevitability.
Many have forgotten that, regardless of the mid-show assault, the 2022 Oscars was just a bad show.
Instead of taking the politics of The Slap into year two, it would be genuinely worthwhile to move to cinematic racial politics talk that isn’t about 20th century multimillionaire platform mongers. We could be discussing whether the exceptional performances in “Empire of Light” or “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” were overlooked because their racial-sexual politics are hard for some to talk about. Or even the systemic issues underpinning “The Woman King” snub.
Just over by Crypto.com Arena, America’s gentry are hours away from gathering. Their show is designed to emulate the young, successful and highly-interactive — though not Will Smith-level interactive — Academy Museum, across town on the Miracle Mile. And the relatively glitzless technical awards, given off-camera in 2022, are now restored. The effects specialists and wranglers of wigs are who make my town amazing. Not the egoists.
The staging of this Oscars may be different, but tomorrow morning the biz is bound to be the same. The stars will have had goodie bags bestowed upon them and just know they deserve it. And it will be unarguable, because for most Hollywood is a state of mind.