December 10, 2023

Trauma therapist and Denzel Washington express concern for Chris Rock and Will Smith

This article first appeared in

Veteran actor Denzel Washington spoke about this year’s Oscar shock when millions witnessed the on-air assault on comedian Chris Rock by actor Will Smith.   

   During the Oscars, Smith approached and slapped Rock after he made a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock’s joke referenced Pinkett Smith being the lead role for the next G.I. Jane movie likening the female lead character’s shaven head to Pinkett Smith’s shaven head.  The Smiths and many viewers took offense because Pinkett Smith’s shaven head is due to alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss.

   After Smith slapped Rock on-air, Washington along with actor and producer Tyler Perry were filmed trying to calm and console Smith who minutes later took the podium and apologized to the Academy while accepting an Oscar for his performance in the film King Richard.

   Washington broke his silence about the incident with Bishop T.D. Jakes at the International Leadership Summit in Charlotte, North Carolina. Jakes is the founder of the annual ILS designed to converge ministry in the marketplace.

   “For whatever reason, the devil got ahold of that circumstance that night,” said Washington after Jakes approached the subject by saying “you stepped into World War III.”   Washington continued by saying when the devil ignores you, you’re doing something wrong and when the devil comes at you, you’re doing something right.

   Washington did not share what he and Perry said to Smith to calm him, only that they both prayed with him without judgement.

   “Who am I to condemn? I don’t know all the ins and outs of the situation, but I know the only solution was prayer.”

   Smith has officially apologized to everyone and has since resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Rock has not filed any charges against Smith, but has moved on handling business as usual, performing a pre-planned standup routine in Boston just two days following the eruptive night at the Oscars. 

   Though the physical assault may be over, emotional effects may possibly linger. Dr. Anita Phillips, a nationally-acclaimed trauma therapist, said trauma responses or consequences of trauma are not always immediate.  So, it may be too soon so know if, or how traumatized Rock may be in the days, months, or years to come.

   “Sometimes trauma makes it hard for us to respond in the moment that is happens,” said Phillips.  “Some of us freeze when we are confronted. So many were impressed with his (Rock’s) composure and his ability to keep going.”

   Phillips has spent her career blending faith with individual and group therapy for issues such as depression, anxiety, grief, addiction, and child sexual abuse. She earned a Ph.D. in Counselor Education & Supervision from Regent University School of Psychology & Counseling and has completed a postdoctoral fellowship at John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Phillips has not spoken with or counseled Rock or the Smiths. 

Dr. Anita Phillips, trauma therapist. Photo: The Potter’s House

    “It was triggering for people in so many ways because all three involved had something that could attract someone else’s pain.  Women who struggle with alopecia or other physical challenges were moved. People who have felt disempowered or unprotected, even if they didn’t want to admit it, were somewhat moved by Smith’s display of violence even though they do not condone violence.  I have heard from women who were traumatized by it because it reminded them of men in their lives who were violent with them.

   My advice for anyone triggered by it is to self-reflect to identify the cause of the trigger and heal,” said Phillips.

   This year was the first time that the Oscars was produced by an African American, Will Packer, and his all-Black cast, including co-hosts Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes.

   Grammy-winning recording artist and producer Donald Lawrence, known for his exquisite showmanship and tailoring said that he doesn’t believe that the altercation will have a negative effect upon future shows.

   “He (Packer) did a great great job of producing the show,” Lawrence said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened, but it had absolutely nothing to do with him and his production of the show.  He had no idea that was going to happen.  No one did.  I am not at liberty to say what happened, but we all go through a lot of stress and sometimes we just have to show each other some grace.”

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