There have been times when some of the country’s artists have been cheesed off by the behaviour of their fans who, unknowingly or otherwise, would expect them to put on a show at a time when they are being real; away from all the glitz and glamour.
Some of the artists have ever raised a red flag in various platforms, cautioning people against going overboard whenever they have encountered their favourite celebrities.
We have heard stories of artists punching a fan in an unruly crowd. Such is not restricted to fans only as we have also witnessed scenarios involving artists and their peers where issues have taken a sudden twist, both on and off-stage.
A few weeks ago, musician Mlaka Maliro, who had been on a long hiatus to concentrate on pastoral work, made a surprise return to the stage but it was not without its moments as he had a thing or two to say to his ‘distractors’ who had a thing or two to say about his wife, claiming she was the reason behind the curtailing of his pastoral work.
“If you touch my wife I will come for you,” he had warned live on stage in between a performance.
As if borrowing a page from Mlaka’s script, this past Sunday, audiences far and wide (watching live and on Television) were left mouth agape when accomplished rapper and actor Will Smith hopped on stage and slapped comedian-cum actor Chris Rock after he had made a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s sickness, alopecia (a hair loss condition).
But just how and where do we begin to draw a line between being artistic and reality, far from showbiz?
Malawian dancehall icon Don Tarz believes this is a tight rope that artists have to carefully tread on.
“I am scared to comment because I am like Chris Rock sometimes…I mix comedy with my lyrics, it’s just a matter of different levels of sense of humour…Some don’t accept things we do as just jokes and they take them too personal and it may surely lead to getting slapped,” he said.
Nonetheless, he urges local audiences and celebrities to embrace humour in its fullest sense, saying Will’s reaction was a bit extreme.
“But I hope both sides will discuss it privately and just accept that it happened then bury the whole thing and move on…similarly, followers/audience must be able to accept jokes as jokes…it’s just for laughter and nothing personal. Let’s all develop a good sense of humour,” Tarz said.
Actor Ashukile Mwakisulu also weighed in his views, stressing that to an extent, Chris went out of line.
“I think Chris crossed the line (apparently he wasn’t aware of Jada’s condition). But honestly he was just doing his job. He pokes fun at everyone and honestly entertainers (more especially Will) should know this. That was just a joke,” he said.
Mwakisulu said this does not necessarily mean that Will is off the hook, pointing out that he too should have bid his time well.
“In this case, he won an Oscar and he would have talked about it during his acceptance speech, sensitise people about the disease and probably dedicate the award to his wife. Slapping that man has really done more harm to everyone. Hollywood is one cruel place, especially to people of colour,” he added.
On the very same night the incident happened, Will did indirectly reflect on the incident while picking up his Oscar for his role in the movie King Richard, which is based on the true life story of Richard Williams, who was father to tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.
“I know to do what we do, you gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you and you gotta smile and you gotta pretend like that’s ok. But Richard Williams, and what I loved, thank you Denzel [Washington] said to me a few minutes ago, he said, “ at your highest moment, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you,” he told the crowd, as tears rolled down his cheeks.
Coming back to the local scene, Mwakisulu agrees that the Academy awards incident is not far from the Mlaka episode.
“They feel duty bound to protect their spouses. But to me, what’s been displayed here is not protection. It’s men succumbing to decades-long pressure mounted on them by public opinion. These two men are in very difficult situations,” he concluded.
There have equally been different opinions from Malawians, particularly through social media forums, with some of them throwing their full weight behind Will for standing up for his wife while others were backing Chris for keeping his cool, arguing in arts, especially comedy, one is not limited on what they can or cannot say.
In the aftermath of the Academy awards blip, Jada wrote on her Instagram account “this is a season for healing and I’m here for it”…whether she was referring to the incident between her husband and Chris or her actual physical healing, that will depend on the angle from which one looks at it.
In her article titled “Can art ever offend?” which appeared on online platform Writer Mom, Teresa Funke makes the following observations:
“Art, like so many things, is subjective. What is offensive to me, may not be to you. What is funny to me, may be distasteful to you. So even if an artist tries to walk the politically correct path, he/she will likely sometimes stumble. To me, it all comes down to the purpose and intention of the art. If you are purposefully pushing the boundaries in order to challenge or shed new light on them, that is one thing, even if I don’t agree with you. If you are seeking to shock or offend simply to garner attention for yourself or your work, that is another. And please don’t think we are fool enough not to recognise the difference.”
Regardless of what happened, some pundits in the United States are lauding Will for the slap incident, saying it helped improve ratings for what would have been an otherwise boring show, with some going to the extent of branding the 2022 Academy awards as an improvement from last year’s.
Indeed, the overall rating for the 2022 academy awards shows that 17.6 Million viewers tuned in, soaring 58 percent from last year’s historic low audience of 10.5 million.
Still at the end of the day, one has to be ethical in how they go about plying their trade, be it comedy or any other art. It was no surprise seeing that the incident, which happened many kilometres and continents away, equally evoked emotions from Malawians. It can however also be argued that where art is concerned, sometimes one has to throw caution to the wind but whatever one decides, it certainly must be borne in mind that there is a thin line between art and realism.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).