The Oscars Ceremony Needs to be Reviewed Too


Is the infamous slap from the Oscars an example of systemic violence?

red carpet



Virtually all the media headlines focused on Will Smith’s behavior and the “slap heard around the world” during the Oscars ceremony. An investigation is underway to assess any follow-up punishment. There is also some attention being paid to Chris Rock and the nature of his “joke” about Mr Smith’s wife in the audience. The Goldwater Rule for psychiatrists prohibits any analysis from me on Mr Smith personally, but allows for an analysis of the system. As we do in psychiatry, this was a critical incident that needs review.

Indeed, what seemed missing to me is the relative lack of attention to the system this event occurred in—that is, how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences decided to stage this event. First of all, it should be clear with little remaining doubt that what happened was not staged by anybody.

Assuming it was not, where was security that could have intervened somewhere along the course of the incident? If Mr Smith was asked to leave, as is now being reported, when and how did that occur? If he said no, why was that accepted? At a time when security’s presence is more common at events, ranging from synagogues to sports, why not plan to be as sure as possible that the Oscars were held in a psychologically and physically safe environment? That would include the clear presence of security and instructions to the master of ceremonies about what should be said or done. Likely, many in the audience were traumatized to some extent. Are they being helped?

Yesterday provided another example of social determinants of mental health, and about how the social system can take some reasonability for addressing violence. For example, a federal bill was finally passed making lynching a federal crime. The legislation goes beyond lynching per se by designating that severe punishment can occur with a conspiracy to commit a hate crime that results in death or serious bodily injury.

In psychiatry and the rest of medicine, we now know that the systems we work in are mainly responsible for the epidemic of burning out that we are suffering, and that in turn also reduces quality of patient care. Just as the saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a system to help prevent us from becoming violent.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.

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