Journalism in the service of society

Civilisation is an act of Will… The tragedy of Will Smith’s 10-year Oscar ban for the black race

‘It’s sad, it’s an historic moment of shame for Will but a reflection moment for black people everywhere. Especially those in Nigeria’s entertainment industry struggling to manage fame and fortune. Yes you are talented. Focus as well on your character. Contain your instincts for instant gratification. On the biggest stages talent is not enough. There will come a time when what you know is not more important than what you are known for. Be self-aware. Be aware of your emotional baggage. Be aware of trauma buried in your DNA. Be vigilant about your anger issues. Reject violence as a solution to anything with anyone’

I FEEL very sad because a great black ‘artiste’ has come upon the judgement of a white establishment and we are unable to contest the logic of its severity. It sometimes feels like the black race has never fully processed the trauma of hundreds of years of slavery, subjugation, apartheid and colonialism. And we betray our deeply seated anger and hurt at the most unexpected moments. That it was ‘black-on-black violence’ at the Oscars that night was the biggest tragedy of all. We saw two sides of black  history in that one moment.

Will Smith being aggressive and uncontained is the metaphor for the modern black man, especially with a whiff of success.  The other is the image of grace under pressure, and a stoic calmness in a moment of provocation as was shown by Chris Rock.

Whatever preceded the moment, whatever the joke about Jada was, whatever ‘triggers’ it represented, in the end it was just words. But wat h the video and observe the long 30seconds or so  from when Smith got up and took that I’ll-advised walk up the gangway of infamy towards assaulting Chris and you saw two different metaphors of the ‘truth’ of the black experience. And the choices that confronts us given our history and intimate relationship with violence. Someone said ‘hurt people hurt people most.’ Maybe that’s the point of the moment in the end. That Chris Rock stayed stoically calm through the moment and thereafter in fact is the metaphor of hope that there might yet be a capacity in the black man for civilization and the rejection of violence as an expression of intent or to assuage pain.

Reading this right is the civil rights movement the black race needs more than any freedoms right now. How do we divorce ourselves from wanton violence, whether it is via guns as is the daily menu in the inner cities of black America or knives as is the case in the UK or banditry and ritual killings as it is in Nigeria. Black humans of this world have an abnormal appetite to inflict pain on another. Even with our vulnerable kids we have normalized pain through wildly inappropriate’whuppings’ with canes, belts, slapping and so forth.  Too much, way too much pain in our history to carry into the future. That is the lesson of that moment at the Oscars. 

And whatever ‘space’ the marriage of Will and Jada is, that moment betrayed a disturbing fact that there is a deep-seated demand on Will to prove his ‘manhood.’

The idea that to be strong for your woman or to prove yourself the alpha male family patriarch you need grand gestures of physical prowess. For all the social media renditions about consciousness and emotional strength that the Will and Jada brand represented before the Oscars, it was a hugely disappointing implosion of reality versus carefully packaged brand value designs. I guess we really mustn’t believe everything we see on social media abi? 

The real irony is that whilst Will’s social media persona may be a construct, perhaps even a work in progress, his professional talent is the real deal. His lead performance in King Richard is one of the most surreal artistic interpretations the world has ever seen. And his winning the Best Actor Oscar was such an important life moment for him and for the black race. How surreal that all the world remembers now is his moment of sheer petulance! 

It’s sad, it’s an historic moment of shame for Will but a reflection moment for black people everywhere. Especially those in Nigeria’s entertainment industry struggling to manage fame and fortune. Yes you are talented. Focus as well on your character. Contain your instincts for instant gratification. On the biggest stages talent is not enough. There will come a time when what you know is not more important than what you are known for. Be self-aware. Be aware of your emotional baggage. Be aware of trauma buried in your DNA. Be vigilant about your anger issues. Reject violence as a solution to anything with anyone. As Denzel Washington reportedly said to Mr. Smith, “At your highest moment be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.” Choose to be civilized in the face of provocation. Chris Rock delivered a masterclass on that. And civilization in the end, is an act of will…all pun intended. 

May God help us all!

*Odugbemi, storyteller and creative content producer, has been a Voting Member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS), the governing body of the OSCARS since 2018. He is Executive Director/co-Founder of the iREP International Documentary Film Forum/Festival.

2 Comments
  1. Avatar of Charles Abraham
    Charles Abraham says

    Could not have said this better! Femi is incisive, brutally truthful and somewhat poignant. The depth of this narrative is staggering. History definitely affects futures. The black man must evolve into a self controlled, meek and strong (not physical bruteness). The stronger the man, the greater the level of self control. Love and hate are acts of the Will. Will you be a Rock on the day of your provocation? Like Femi said, all puns intended. Well done my brother for delivering a seminal piece at such an auspicious moment.

  2. Avatar of Funke Awodiya
    Funke Awodiya says

    This is a thought provoking piece. This line really resonates with me ‘There will come a time when what you know is not more important than what you are known for’. Thanks for sharing.

Comments are closed.

Naija Times