Academy Awards

What Is Alopecia? Will Smith-Chris Rock Oscars Drama Shines Spotlight on Disease

Will Smith hit Oscars host Chris Rock on stage after the comedian cracked a joke about Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who revealed in 2018 that she was diagnosed with alopecia

Jada Pinkett Smith
Rich Fury/VF22/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

A unexpected scene that unfolded on the Oscars stage Sunday night shined a spotlight on a condition many may not have known about: alopecia.

It all started when Will Smith hit Chris Rock after the comedian and host of Sunday's Academy Awards cracked a joke about Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

Pinkett Smith revealed in 2018 that she was diagnosed with alopecia. She has often discussed the challenges of hair loss on Instagram and other social media platforms.

What is alopecia, what happened that has sparked awareness and what should you know?

Here's a breakdown.

What is alopecia?

Alopecia areata is a disease that develops when the body attacks its own hair follicles, which can cause hair loss anywhere on the body, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. It can affect both men and women at any age but is most often diagnosed during childhood or teenage years.

"Many people who develop alopecia areata are otherwise healthy," the association's website states. "They have hair loss and sometimes nail changes, but they remain in good health."

There are various types of alopecia, some of which cause patches of hair loss, total loss of hair on a person's scalp or even hair loss on someone's entire body.

The AAD noted that race can affect one's risk of getting alopecia areata.

"In a large study, researchers found that Black and Hispanic nurses were more likely than non-Hispanic white nurses to develop this disease," the association reported.

What has Jada Pinkett Smith said about her alopecia?

Pinkett Smith has been vocal about her struggles since her diagnosis.

“A lot of people have been asking why I’ve been wearing turbans,” the then-46-year-old said in 2018 on an episode of her Facebook show Red Table Talk“Well, I haven’t talked about it. It’s not easy to talk about, but I am going to talk about it.”

“My hair has been a big part of me,” she continued. “Taking care of my hair has been a beautiful ritual and having the choice to have hair or not. And then one day to be like, ‘Oh my god, I might not have that choice anymore.’"

Last year, Pinkett Smith, inspired by her daughter Willow, shaved her head.

More recently, shared some levity surrounding her situation.

"Me and this alopecia are going to be friends … period!" she wrote in an Instagram caption late last year.

Will Smith has also expressed support for his wife during her struggle.

"I love her new cut, I had to show y’all," he wrote in January 2018, when she debuted a new haircut.

What happened at the Oscars?

The exchange began when Rock took aim at Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, saying, “Jada, I love you. ‘G.I. Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it, all right?” Rock’s reference was made from the 1997 film “G.I. Jane,” starring Demi Moore, who shaved her head to portray a fictional Navy Seal candidate.

The joke missed, badly.

Smith walked onto the stage from his front-row seat and took a swing at Rock with an open palm, generating a loud smack. Smith walked back to his seat and shouted for Rock to leave Pinkett Smith alone. Rock replied that he was just making a “G.I. Jane” joke — and Smith yelled back at him a second time.

Smith shouted at Rock to “keep my wife’s name out of your (expletive) mouth,” and the crowd hushed as it became clear this was no act.

“That was the greatest night in the history of television,” Rock said, then resumed his role as presenter.

Smith apologized afterward to many people — including tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, Richard Williams’ daughters — but did not mention Rock in his apology.

“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” Smith said as he began his acceptance speech.

He then paused, the meaning behind his choice of words clear, and teared up as he spoke about being a protector for those who worked with him on the film.

“I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people,” Smith said during his acceptance speech. “I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse. You’ve got to be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you’ve got to be able to have people disrespecting you. And you’ve got to smile and pretend like that’s OK.”

“I’m hoping the Academy invites me back,” Will Smith said, as he concluded his on-stage remarks.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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