Four months after slapping Chris Rock during the live TV broadcast of this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, Will Smith posted an apology video on Youtube. Smith’s slap was provoked by a joke Rock made onstage during the ceremony about Jada Smith’s short hair, which is a symptom of her struggle with alopecia. Following the slap incident, Will Smith won the best actor Oscar for his role as Richard Williams in the film King Richard, and was subsequently banned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for 10 years.
There are a couple aspects of this video that suggest Smith used a restorative approach in crafting his apology. One of the core guiding philosophies of Restorative Justice is to place emphasis on the impact one’s actions have on a community as opposed to the individual intent behind those actions. Throughout his apology video, Smith consistently makes a point to emphasize the impact his slap had over why he slapped Rock. Smith acknowledged the various communities his slap impacted as he apologized not only to Rock, but also Rock’s mother, brother Tony Rock, the community of award nominees, his own family, and his fans around the world. In each of these apologies, Smith goes into detail about how exactly his slap caused harm to that person/community. Smith never attempted to justify the slap, but instead clearly condemned his action as he explained, “There is no part of me that thinks that’s the optimal way to handle a feeling of disrespect or insults.” In this statement, Smith skillfully balances self accountability for his actions with validation of the disrespect he felt from what Rock said.
Another feature of Smith’s apology that uses restorative principles is his commitment to restoring the relationships he damaged through his actions. Smith expresses his genuine regret and self accountability as he explains that “disappointing people is [his] central trauma”, and the knowledge that he did not live up to people’s impression of him “hurts him psychologically and emotionally”. A restorative approach to healing conflict requires not only this accountability, but also introspective healing from the person who caused harm. Smith explains in his video how he is working on balancing these two objectives as he states, “I am trying to be remorseful without being ashamed of myself”. By including both statements of accountability and efforts to find his value beyond this conflict, Smith proves his commitment to restoring the relationship he had with his fans.
When celebrities such as Smith engage in public conflict, the world is watching to see how things will play out. Smith’s apology video allowed millions to see him apply Restorative Justice principles such as emphasizing the impact of his actions on various communities over his personal reasoning, and showing commitment to restoring the relationships he damaged. Smith’s engagement in restorative apology practices has the potential to influence other celebrities, and the millions of people who idolize them to move away from more individualistic, punitive style apologies.