Will Smith’s Contentious Oscar Slap Triggers Conversations On Alopecia

28 March 2022

STILLWATER, Minn. (WCCO) — What was a shocking moment at Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony is nevertheless raising new awareness for some on a medical condition some may just be hearing about for the first time.

Will Smith, who won the Oscar for best actor later that evening, slapped presenter Chris Rock on live television after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife. Jada Pinkett Smith has shaved her head because of an autoimmune disease called alopecia, which causes hair loss.

Twelve-year-old Stillwater resident Molly Steffl has had alopecia since third grade.

“I think that Will Smith could have done it in a different way, but I also feel like it’s not OK to poke fun about any disease,” Steffl said.

She says Rock’s joke is like bullying she’s experienced.

“It hurts, and it hurts a lot,” she said. “For me it was tragic, because it set myself aside from everybody else, and it was a thing that you can’t really hide.”

Tyrone Folliard-Olson, the human resources manager at WCCO-TV, started losing his hair at 13. He’s on the board of the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.

Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith (credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

“It’s so much more of that mental, emotional, psychological impact,” Folliard-Olson said. “Some folks in my alopecia community who are now telling their stories of how they have been the butt of jokes.”

Dermatologist Dr. Charles Crutchfield’s son battled alopecia.

“What I tell patients [is] you are not alone, hair loss is so common,” Crutchfield said.

Causes include genetics and stress. Crutchfield says while there’s no cure, there are treatments.

“Sometimes you get to the point where there’s not much you can do, but that’s way down the road,” he said. “You know, I will throw everything at it but the kitchen sink if I can, and if I can get the kitchen sink … I’ll throw that, too.”

Everyone we spoke with hopes this Hollywood showdown improves understanding.

“I’m hoping that people will know more about alopecia and are more aware about it,” Steffl said.

And today, the National Alopecia Areota Foundation issued a statement, saying “alopecia is no joke,” going on to say nearly seven million people in the U.S. are affected, and 147 million people worldwide.

Click here for more information on the condition.

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