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Hollywood reacts with shock after Will Smith hits Chris Rock at Oscars

Will Smith hits presenter Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars (Chris Pizzello/AP)
Will Smith hits presenter Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars (Chris Pizzello/AP)

Will Smith’s son Jaden and tennis star Serena Williams are among the stars who expressed both shock and support after the Hollywood actor hit Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars.

Smith appeared to take offence at a gag comedian Rock made about wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s short haircut before taking to the stage and striking him in front of the star-studded audience at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Red Table Talk host Pinkett Smith has previously spoken about her struggles with alopecia and said it is what prompted her to shave her head.

After being named best actor for his performance as the father of Williams and her sister Venus in King Richard, Smith used his acceptance speech to apologise to the Academy and “all my fellow nominees” – but not Rock.

“I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people,” he added.

Shortly after the incident, Serena Williams shared a video on her Instagram story showing her looking shocked.

In a second clip, the sportswoman admitted she “had to put her drink down”.

Jaden Smith, 23, tweeted: “And That’s How We Do It” after his father’s on-stage altercation.

He later told his followers that his father’s acceptance speech had made him cry.

Rapper 50 Cent shared a photo of the moment on Instagram and wrote: “B!tch don’t you ever play with me. LOL.”

American late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien was among those making light of the situation, writing on Twitter: “Just saw the Will Smith slap.

“Anyone have a late night show I can borrow just for tomorrow?”

Little Britain star Matt Lucas quipped: “Anyone else need therapy after watching The Oscars? I’m not even joking.”

However, Smith’s actions also attracted criticism from members of the film industry.

The Last Samurai producer Marshall Herskovitz urged the Academy to do more than simply issue a statement in response to the incident.

He said on Twitter: “I call upon the Academy, of which I am a member, to take disciplinary action against Will Smith.

“He disgraced our entire community tonight.”

Hollywood star Mia Farrow tweeted: “It was just a joke. Jokes are what Chris Rock does.

“Always has been edgy. This was a mild joke for him. And I love GI Jane.”

Referring to words from Smith’s acceptance speech, English actor Cary Elwes said: “The ‘vessels of love’ I have known or admired never acted violently against another human being…”

One Tree Hill star Sophia Bush commented that “violence isn’t OK”.

She added: “Assault is never the answer. Also? This is the 2nd time that Chris has made fun of Jada on the #Oscar stage, & tonight he went after her alopecia.

“Punching down at someone’s auto-immune disease is wrong. Doing so on purpose is cruel. They both need a breather.”

Comedian Kathy Griffin suggested Smith’s actions set a bad precedent for her profession.

She said on Twitter: “Let me tell you something, it’s a very bad practice to walk up on stage and physically assault a Comedian.

“Now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theaters.”

Star Wars actor Mark Hamill dubbed it the “ugliest Oscar moment ever”.

He added: “Stand-up comics are very adept at handling hecklers. Violent physical assault… not so much.”

Strictly Come Dancing judge Motsi Mabuse, who was born in South Africa, described it as “internally one of the biggest and disappointing shameful moment ever” and criticised both Smith and Rock.

She added: “Chris you cannot put down a black woman like that in one of the most prestigious event.

“Black woman are fighting to be seen in all our beauty that was extremely hurtful!

“Will Smith you cannot physically assault a person and not address it, to who were you apologizing to. It’s still a No for me!”

Criticism also came from political figures in the UK, including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Speaking on LBC, the former director of public prosecutions said he was shown a clip of the incident by his wife.

He said: “Of course, there are circumstances and anybody who insults family members excites something quite emotional in all of us.

“But, on the other hand, to go up and hit someone in that way is wrong, I’m afraid. It was the wrong thing to do.

“It was at the Oscars, it’s got all the cameras there, millions of people watching.”

Sir Keir said he was “struck by the fact that it didn’t appear to me to be completely spontaneous” with Smith appearing to walk up to the stage “quite calmly and then hit someone”.

He said: “I’m sorry, for me that’s the wrong side of the line.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi added to the station: “Violence is never the answer to any problem-solving, as Will Smith admitted himself in that tearful, heart-wrenching apology.

“I think we should also remember – and I’m the Education Secretary – that, actually, sometimes even a joke can be below the belt.”

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