Lupita Nyong’o knew she would end up a meme after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars.
Tea Black Panther actress was asked by The Hollywood Reporter about her second-by-second reaction to the drama going viral. She was seated behind Will and wife Jada Pinkett Smith when everything came to a head on March 27.
“Once the moment was over, I realized, ‘Oh my God, there’s no way all this transpired and I’m not in the shot,'” Nyong’o said with a laugh. “I knew as soon as it was over that I was going to be a meme.”
And she was. Nyong’o was trending on social media — along with Will, Rock, Jada and #WhatJustHappened — after the slap seen ’round the world. We now know the drama stemmed from presenter Rock making a G.I. Jane joke about Jada’s hair, apparently unaware she has alopecia. After Will returned to his seat, he proceeds to scream — multiple times — at Rock to “keep my wife’s name out your f***ing mouth.”
Nyong’o was in frame just behind Will as he went berserk, so her reaction played out in real-time during the broadcast. She seemed confused at first, perhaps wondering, like everyone else, if the slap was a bit, and then shocked as Will carried on cursing at his seat.
Asked what it as like to be there that night under those conditions, Nyong’o said she had nothing to add beyond what everyone already saw on her face.
“I don’t want to add any more fuel to that thing, quite frankly,” she said diplomatically.
As for those memes of the 12 Years a Slave star, there were quite a few. “Lupita was all of us” was one of the most popular.
Here are some others:
The reactions of fellow audience members Andrew Garfield and Zendaya were also popular memes.
While Nyong’o won’t be fueling the drama with her take, she was among those giving Smith a standing ovation when he won the Best Actor award for King Richard shortly after the slap. In fairness, the crowd was as stunned as the viewers at home.
She also hung out with the Smiths later that night at the Vanity Fair Oscars party, where Will infamously danced to “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” as the crowd gathered around him cheering in what was another odd moment of the night. The fallout really began the next day as the events were pieced together and Will addressed the slap on social media. (He vaguely addressed it in his speech, calling himself a protector of his family and vessel of love. He apologized to the Academy and joked about whether he’d be invited back.)
Will later resigned from the Academy and the organization banned him from the Oscars for 10 years. He’s made subsequent apologies, including a July video in which he apologized to Rock.
He’s been inching back into the spotlight ahead of the first film since the debacle — Emancipation — being released. It hits theaters on Dec. 2 and will stream on Apple TV+ starting Dec. 9. He’ll likely do some sort of press for that — even if it’s just one interview finally addressing the whole slap saga.