Is Will Smith’s jaw-dropping intervention at the 2022 Oscar ceremony the most shocking thing to have ever happened at the Academy Awards? It's close, but there are other contenders ...

What did Will Smith do?

The short version? He clambered out of the audience during Sunday night’s award ceremony and hit presenter Chris Rock. The longer version is that Rock made a joke mentioning Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and appeared to refer to her alopecia, a condition which causes hair loss and which has seen her shave her head. Specifically, Rock suggested the actress is to star in GI Jane 2 – a putative sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1997 action film GI Jane, which features a shaven-headed Demi Moore. So Will Smith stood up and lamped him. A quick-fingered producer in the gallery dropped out the sound for a full 20 seconds of the live broadcast, though whoever was in charge of the Japanese feed didn’t bother – which is why you can see the whole, unexpurgated exchange on You Tube should you so desire.

What was the reaction?

Shock, mostly, though Rock was able to continue. But on a great evening for the distaff side – Jane Campion became only the third woman to win Best Director, Sian Heder won Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Coda, Billie Eilish picked up Best Original Song, and Ariana DeBose became the first queer woman of colour to win Best Supporting actress for West Side Story – it was male-on-male violence which grabbed the headlines. “What a thing to wake up to,” tweeted Booker Prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo. “Only the fifth black man in nearly 100 years to win an Oscar for male lead, and the first in 16 years, resorts to violence instead of utilising the power of words to slay Chris Rock.”

Will Smith won an Oscar?

Yes, for Best Actor. But nobody’s talking about that, except him, when he’s trying to change the subject. Still, at least he kept his clothes on.

Come again?

Smith’s behaviour was shocking but it certainly isn’t the first time jaws have dropped at the Academy Awards. In 1974 a man wearing a thick moustache and nothing else ran out behind presenter David Niven and flashed a peace sign along with what Niven, showing great composure and a talent for off the cuff quips, then referred to as "his shortcomings". These nude event crashers were known as streakers in the 1970s, when it was kind of a thing. The naked man was art gallery owner Robert Opel, who would run for president two years later under the campaign slogan ‘Not just another crooked dick’ – most likely a reference to disgraced former president Richard Nixon, though there are other theories.

Anything else?

In 1973 Marlon Brando famously boycotted the Oscars and sent activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place. When he won for The Godfather, she refused to accept the award and instead read a coruscating statement about the ill treatment of Native Americans.

Any more?

Oh yes. In 2000 Angelina Jolie won Best Supporting Actress and celebrated by smooching companion James Haven – that had tongues wagging because he’s her brother – and Sacha Baron Cohen nearly set off world war three in 2012 when he turned up in costume and appeared to spill the ashes of revered North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on the red carpet. Then there was Cher’s minimalist dress and maximalist head-dress in 1986 (pictured below), Seth McFarlane’s We Saw Your Boobs opening number in 2013 and the car crash that was David Letterman’s hosting gig in 1995.


Most shocking of all, at least to modern audiences, were the events surrounding Hattie McDaniel’s appearance at the 1940 Oscars. The venue had a whites-only policy and McDaniel, who would become the first black winner of an Oscar for her performance in Gone With The Wind, was only allowed to attend if she sat at a segregated table at the back.