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94th Annual Academy Awards - Backstage

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I‘m not sure when Chris Rock became such a controversial figure among Black people, but it must have been before Will Smith smacked him in front of the entire world from the Oscars stage last year. And it must have been some time after the mid to late ’90s when he was churning out comedic classics like his specials Bring the Pain and “Bigger & Blacker, because back then it really seemed like we were pretty unified in our love for the comedic stylings of Pookie from New Jack City.

And, content-wise, his comedy really hasn’t changed much.

So, on Saturday, Rock’s latest Netflix standup special Selective Outrage premiered. Was it any good? Well, that depends on who you ask. In my not-so-humble opinion, most of the live-streamed set, which he performed at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre, was pretty unremarkable. Not necessarily bad, I just didn’t find myself laughing out loud as much as I did when I watched Rock specials back in the day.

Maybe it’s because, like Dave Chappelle, Bill Burr and pretty much every straight male comedian over 45, he started off his set lamenting largely fictitious “cancel culture.” It just gets tiresome to hear comedians moan about how no one can say anything even remotely offensive without getting in trouble, just before saying those very offensive things on stage without any fear of getting in trouble for it. I’m also always baffled when Black people use the word “woke” in the same context white people use it.

Or maybe I just wasn’t terribly interested in things like his thoughts on Meghan Markle or his family life or being single and trying to date and find love despite being a “hoe,” or his continued loud and wrong claim that women experience more social privilege than men or how everyone these days is always playing the victim. Because once it leaked that he was going to be talking extensively about Will, Jada and the slap, that was pretty much all I was tuning in for. And he didn’t get to that until the last 10 minutes of the special.

Now, there are some folks on Black Twitter who think Rock should have been over it by now. It’s been nearly a year. Chris needs therapy, not a stage. He should have addressed it when it happened, not now.

Here’s the thing: Even if Rock wasn’t still worked up over the slap, which he clearly is, he still would have HAD to address it in his first special since it happened. If he didn’t, everyone would have been wondering why he didn’t. The think pieces would have been about how he declined to talk about it and a million writers, Twitter users and other assorted media people would have been analyzing to death his continued lack of transparency and unwillingness to open up regarding his feelings on what happened.

I think a lot of folks are “selective” in their ability to remember how the drama-addicted media actually works. Even as someone who honestly thought folks were overreacting to the slap, I wouldn’t try to tell Rock how to feel about it or when he should be over it, and I would have been surprised if he stood on a stage and talked for an hour with nary a mention of the thing everyone was waiting for him to talk about, whether they’re willing to admit it or not.

And talk about it he did.

Seriously, Rock went full 2Pac “Hit Em Up” with this one.

“Y’all know what happened to me, getting smacked by Suge Smith,” Rock began before praising himself for taking the hit like boxer Manny Pacquiao and then going in on Jada Pinkett-Smith and her “entanglements,” which he blamed for all the fanfare surrounding their marital woes in the first place.

“His wife was f–king her son’s friend,” he said. “I normally would not talk about this…but for some reason, these n—-s put that sh-t on the internet!”

From the Washington Post:

Rock said Smith’s masculinity was then called into question, but it was Rock who wound up paying the price. “Everybody called him a b—-,” he said. “And who’s he hit? Me. [Someone] he knows he can beat.”

Pinkett Smith was not spared from Rock’s criticism, either. Rock said it all started after comments she made in 2016, when he was hosting the Oscars a previous time. “She starts it … I finish it,” Rock said. (His version of all of this is sure to be finely combed over and debated in the days ahead.)

Again, Rock’s Ice Cube “No Vaseline”-style rant against Will and Jada got mixed reviews among watchers, and especially among Black people.

People, of course, noticed that he was still so affected by the slap that he messed up his final joke on the matter by momentarily mixing up Smith’s movie Concussion with his newest film Emancipation.

Speaking of which, a lot of Black people took issue with Rock saying he watched the film just to see Will get whipped. (Which, I mean, I get that it’s a slave movie and it wasn’t a good look for Chris to be “rooting for massa” as he put it, but we’re talking about an actor playing a slave getting whipped by an actor playing massa. It’s not like Chris is cheering on slavery. It’s just a movie and it was just a joke.)

Personally, I only had one real issue with Rock’s Dr. Dre “Dre Day”-like roast of Will and Jada, and it came at the very end when he was explaining why he didn’t hit Will back that night.

“I got parents. And you know what my parents taught me? Don’t fight in front of White people,” he said.

Seriously, WTF?

Look, regardless of whether you’re “Team Chris,” “Team Will” or “Team Jada,” you have to admit Rock was on his way to giving his special a strong finish with his clap back. Why sully that by signing off with a shucking and jiving, borderline sunken place expression of fear of the white gaze? It’s like, he came so close to sticking the landing, but, at the last second, he started tap dancing for Caucasian approval instead.

If Will was wrong for slapping Chris, he was wrong because it was violent and uncalled for—not because he did it in front of white people. When is the last time you heard about white people ceasing violent white shenanigans because they’re afraid of embarrassing the white race in front of Black people? Rock even talked about the Jan. 6 World War White People rebellion at the U.S. Capitol, which he cited as an example of white men wrongly thinking they’re losing power in America and playing the victim because of it. What he didn’t mention is that those white people should have felt ashamed for behaving the way they did for non-white people to see. 

And as many people on social media pointed out, Chris Rock can bash a Black woman, joke about poor Black people and produce a whole documentary about Black hair in mixed company, but God forbid white people see him hit a Black man who hit him first. 

That would be a travesty—if you care way too much about what white people think.


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