If you watched or followed the Oscars last year, as 40% of Americans did, there’s likely one moment that stood out in your memory more than any of the night’s awards or speeches: the Will Smith-Chris Rock incident. Most Americans (55%) say they heard a lot about this, while 35% heard a little.
If you’re one of the 10% who heard nothing at all about this, here’s what happened: While onstage, Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, which is due to a hair-loss condition called alopecia. Will Smith, Pinkett Smith's husband, responded by walking on stage and slapping Rock.
About one-quarter (26%) of Americans say that both men were wrong, but what Smith did was worse. Another 23% think that Smith was the only one in the wrong, and 22% think that both men were wrong and both actions were equally bad. Relatively few think that both were wrong, but what Rock did was worse (10%) — or that only Rock was wrong (6%). Only 3% of Americans believe neither man did anything wrong, and 10% are unsure.
When Americans were polled on the same question in May-June 2022, shortly after last year’s Oscars, slightly more (28%) believed that only what Smith did was wrong.
After the incident, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences banned Smith from attending the Oscars until 2032. Nearly half of Americans (47%) approve the decision, while 36% disapprove. Americans who watched the 2022 Oscars or followed news about it are especially likely to approve, at 55%. But even people who weren’t following the news are more likely to say they approve (43%) than disapprove (35%).
Public perceptions of both men appear to have increased in the year since it happened. When surveyed about Smith in May-June 2022, 39% of people had a very or somewhat favorable opinion of the actor. However, in March 2023, more than half (56%) now have a favorable opinion of him. Sentiment on Rock also has become more positive. Last year, 59% held a favorable opinion of him, while 66% do now in March 2023.
Black Americans are particularly likely to have favorable opinions of both men: 73% have a favorable opinion of Smith and 76% have a favorable opinion of Rock, according to YouGov’s March 2023 poll. Among white Americans, 53% have a favorable opinion of Smith and 66% do of Rock.
The latest Economist/YouGov Poll, fielded at around the same time as this one, found similar results for favorable opinions of Rock, but lower numbers for Smith.
— Carl Bialik and Taylor Orth contributed to this article
Methodology: This poll was conducted online on March 3 - 6, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.
Image: Getty (Neilson Barnard / Staff)