Taís Melillo

An Honest Question: Are Men Okay?

Look. It pains me to have to bring it up right after Women’s History month and all. But seriously. Are men okay?

I’m not going to debate what happened in the toxic exchange between Jada, Will, and Chris during the 2022 Academy Awards presentation last week. The debate is raging on Twitter right now. There are full-blown fights between groups claiming what Will did was righteous and what Chris did was worse. There are people saying they are happy to “finally” see Black men standing up for “their wives.”

But let’s just do a little visualization work for a moment. Let’s imagine the conversations that might be taking place this morning if Will Smith hadn’t reacted to Chris Rock’s tasteless joke.

What would the conversation look like today?

– We might be talking publicly about why, oh why, Black women are still the butt of such low-ball and racist jokes that perpetuate Eurocentric beauty standards in Hollywood.

– We might be talking about the sexist misogyny of Chris Rock’s “you can’t have a successful wife and husband in the same household” comments.

– We might be talking about the sexual assault of the two male presenters by Regina Hall after she lined up other male actors on stage and told them she would be conducting a naked Covid test backstage — with her tongue — because she thought they were attractive.

– We might be talking about that weird “13 inches of Mexican in your hands” comment shortly before the childrens’ musical performance.

– We might be having a conversation about Will’s place in history alongside Sidney Poitier.

I would like to have these conversations. Publicly. But we’re not. We’re having a fight about something else. And that’s a shame. It really is.

So, I really want to ask, are any of those guys okay? Is Timothee Chalamet okay? All three presenters said they would like to “smash” him in the opening monologue. Is Josh Brolin okay? How about Jason Momoa? If I were paraded on stage on live TV by, say, oh, I don’t know, Donald Trump, maybe, and gawked at, joked about being explored by mouth, or physically given a pat-down, I don’t know if I would be okay.

I don’t think Will Smith is okay. During the red carpet/pre-show interview, when asked about his movie, he kind of dodged the question. Instead, he plugged his book. He got teased about his marriage all night. I don’t think he is dealing with his personal life right now. The public image of the “nice guy rapper who doesn’t swear” is long gone. Now we see a hothead with a wife who admitted to having an affair, and to a husband who had to find out about it during the live interview. Will! Have you been to therapy? Survivors of domestic violence were triggered. Hearing someone use “God” or “Love” to justify violence is top-tier abuser rhetoric.

I don’t know if Chris Rock is okay. He was a shock comedian who was known for offensive comedy. He has always ripped on people. There’s a saying in AA that goes something like, “Don’t go to the hardware store looking for milk.” The producers knew that bringing Chris Rock to present an award was risky. Does that excuse his actions? No. Not at all. He took that hit like a champ. But he had to stand there in front of everyone like an ass, and keep the show going. He’s a performer, performing in front of other actors, and no performer should have to feel unsafe on stage. How unsettling that must have been for everyone.

And lastly, men in general: are you okay? I thought we were past this. The whole “protecting our property” thing. It’s a bad look. Women, wives, girlfriends are not property. Stand up for us when we’re not with you. Stand by us when we speak up. No response is a response, and not laughing at a comedian’s joke is taking their power away. Issuing a public response (through your publisher or your powerful platform or, hey, even at the mic when you win your goddamn Oscar, asshole) is power. Will Smith won an Academy Award. He has a platform to speak up in defense of the injustice he felt that night. There were men in the audience that didn’t have that exact platform (although they do have a significant one) and calling forth for equality, I think we need to ask some questions.