Will Smith’s sucker punch of a comedian highlights the need for humility – and repentance
I never thought the Academy Awards – a ceremony that traded its relevance for quota systems some time ago – would ever capture people’s imagination and interest again, but it returned to the headlines and dinner table conversation this year.
Well, it wasn’t actually the Academy Awards that was being spoken about, but that moment when Best Actor winner Will Smith slapped host Chris Rock across the face for making an insensitive joke about his wife’s alopecia diagnosis, before yelling obscenities at him from his front-row seat.
Like most of you, I have been in discussions about whether or not it was staged, the appropriateness of Smith being allowed to stay in the theatre to receive his award, the tearful acceptance speech in which Smith apologised to everyone except Rock, the standing ovation and strident defence from many of his Hollywood confreres and traded the funniest memes using the now infamous image of “The Slap.”
However, the most interesting conversations were about whether Will Smith can be ‘redeemed’ or whether his career will come to a premature end. The question isn’t just one of celebrity gossip, but whether anyone can be forgiven in this age of cancellation. Smith apologised to Rock over Instagram (as you do) and has voluntarily resigned his membership of the Academy. But is that enough?
It’s hard to say.
On the one hand, those who gave Smith a standing ovation and defended him afterwards are being criticised for minimising or even condoning what happened. They are being labelled as hypocrites for taking a stand against other forms of violence but for ignoring it here. Many in showbiz will want to make sure they are not too quick to embrace Smith again, lest anyone accuse them of being soft on the crimes of one of their own (Harvey Weinstein, anyone?)
“The practice of confession is the answer to the perils of contemporary cancel culture, where we are tempted to view some sins or crimes as beyond forgiveness and the people who commit them as being beyond redemption.”
On the other hand, Smith is a very popular, talented and bankable actor, with such significant appeal that he can command $40 million for each film in which he stars. He is only the fifth African American actor to take home the Best Actor gong, and my guess is that filmmakers would be eager to work with him again if his reputation could be restored.
But how can you redeem someone in an industry, and a culture more broadly, that no longer believes in second chances?
I remember having this conversation with Dr Tanveer Ahmed, a psychiatrist and author whose book In Defence of Shame, speaks about the communal aspect of reconciliation and restoration. Dr Ahmed described his work with certain ethnic communities where, when treating a patient who had offended against the standards of their community, he would need to invite representatives of the community in to accept the apology and restore the patient’s standing. Even if the patient had been forgiven, without explicit confirmation from the community that this was the case, the patient would continue to suffer this shame.
To many, Dr Ahmed’s work sounds like the best of modern-day psychiatry. To Catholics, it is analogous to the Sacrament of Reconciliation: a person offends and brings their shame and contrition to someone who has the authority to not only forgive them, but to restore them to the community.
Of course, God has the ability to forgive outside confession, but for the individual sinner, nothing quite compares to the certainty that comes with hearing the words of absolution from a Priest speaking as Christ.
We hear frequently enough that many Catholics have abandoned regular confession, and that this abandonment is understandable, and even appropriate in modern times.
I disagree. If anything, we need it more than ever.
“Of course, god has the ability to forgive outside confession, but for the individual sinner, nothing quite compares to the certainty that comes with hearing the words of absolution from a priest, speaking as christ”
The practice of individual confession is the answer to the perils of contemporary cancel culture, where we are tempted to view some sins or crimes as beyond forgiveness, and the people who commit them as being beyond redemption. It is a reminder that all of us are in need of mercy and so we should extend mercy when it is sought. It is the way that even those who fall from great heights on the biggest of stages can be restored.
In other words, Hollywood would be much better if everyone was Catholic. That’s not too much to ask, right?