The news stories regarding the 2022 Academy Awards were supposed to be about how it was the first time a film (Coda) produced by a streaming service (in this case, Apple TV) took the highest award at the Oscars. But moments earlier, Will Smith had marched on stage to slap Chris Rock — and everything changed in an instant.

Without any doubt, the thirty seconds it took Smith to assault Rock, who had been making poor-taste jokes about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett’s alopecia, and to bellow repeatedly, “Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth,”will prove...

The news stories regarding the 2022 Academy Awards were supposed to be about how it was the first time a film (Coda) produced by a streaming service (in this case, Apple TV) took the highest award at the Oscars. But moments earlier, Will Smith had marched on stage to slap Chris Rock — and everything changed in an instant.

Without any doubt, the thirty seconds it took Smith to assault Rock, who had been making poor-taste jokes about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett’s alopecia, and to bellow repeatedly, “Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth,”will prove to be game-changing, both for the Academy Awards and for Hollywood at large.

As the now-viral photographs of the horrified celebrity audience have shown, the initial expectation was that Smith and Rock, who had widely been believed to be friendly, had cooked up some skit — such incidents are hardly unknown at the Oscars — but the macho aggression that Smith continued to demonstrate upon sitting down made it uncomfortably explicit that he was not joking. Rock’s stunned reaction — “Will Smith just slapped the shit out of me” — and the appalled silence in the audience mirrored that of millions of viewers.

It was a strange twist of fate that Smith then returned to the podium a few minutes later to accept the award for Best Actor for his performance as Richard Williams in King Richard. He had been regarded as the front-runner for months, and it was seen as all but inevitable that he would receive the accolade. But his emotional speech, in which he called himself “a fierce defender of his family” and apologized to the Academy — but not, noticeably, to Rock — for his actions did not dispel the mixed feeling of unease and horror that he had caused.

There are, of course, those who support Smith, not least his son Jaden, who tweeted after the ceremony “And That’s How We Do It.” Democratic congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, in a since deleted tweet, wrote, “Thank you Will Smith, shout out to all the husbands who defend their wives living with alopecia in the face of daily ignorance & insults… women with baldness are for the real men only. Boys need not apply.” But these reactions are anomalous. The consensus, as far as these things can be reached in the panicked and surprised aftermath of an entirely unexpected event, is that Rock’s crass and not very amusing joke should have been dealt with by Smith verbally, rather than physically, and that the violence has damaged his reputation severely.

Nonetheless, it is worth noting that Coda, a drama about a deaf family with a child with musical aspirations, had managed to overtake such higher-profile titles as The Power of the Dog, Dune and Belfast to become the favorite for Best Picture: an award that it duly won, along with Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. Coda, with its themes of disability and ableism, made the film a perfectly appropriate recipient for the increasingly socially conscious ceremony.

Yet when the Academy meets to discuss this year’s event, they may even be grateful that a poor ceremony was so overshadowed by one spectacular set-piece moment. The hosts Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer and Regina Hall lacked chemistry, the evening was beset by technical problems, few of the awards were especially deserved and, as usual, it dragged on for far longer than it needed to. But all of it pales in comparison to the spectacular, shocking image of Smith, impeccably clad in designer attire, hitting another man, hard, that will define this year’s Oscars forever.