Will Smith Gives First Award Acceptance Speech On-Stage Since 2022 Oscars Slap

Will Smith has finally returned to the awards show circuit, making his first on-stage appearance and acceptance speech since “the slap” at the African-American Film Critics Association Awards on Wednesday.

Honored with the Beacon Award for the challenging slavery film “Emancipation,” Smith was joined on-stage by director Antoine Fuqua, per The Hollywood Reporter.

Fuqua took a moment to explain its significance, noting that it “is intended to highlight films that are tackling challenging subjects with insight, enlightening, as well as engaging the audience.”

When Smith took to the stage, he described the project as “the most individual difficult film” of his career, saying that he found it challenging as a performer to “transport” his modern brain to the mentality of living in that time of American slavery.

“It’s difficult to imagine that, that level of inhumanity,” he said.

He then shared a moment from the filming that unfortunately helped him a bit to find that inner place of understanding of what it might have been like to be Black in such an era of injustice.

It happened almost immediately, too, with Smith saying that one of his fellow performers, who was white, went off-script on Day 2 of the film shoot. “I did my line. He did his line. And then he ad-libbed and spit in the middle of my chest,” Smith shared.

Smith portrays Peter in the film, an enslaved man who never gives up on his dream of freedom. The character is an amalgamation of real individuals largely based on a famous photograph of a man’s back covered in whipped scars.

“If I had pearls on, I definitely would’ve clutched them,” Smith said of the impromptu moment he was spat upon. “I wanted to say, ‘Antoineeeeee,’ but I stopped, and I realized that Peter couldn’t have called the director.”

Instead, he immersed himself in the mindset of his character, who would have to endure such an indignity — and far worse — at the hands of any white man. Smith said the actor ad-libbed in the same way for the second take.

“I just held in that moment, and there was a part — it makes me teary right now — there was a part of me that was grateful that I got to really understand,” Smith continued.

Thankfully for his experience so early in the shoot, he said that Fuqua called for another take, but “without the spit.”

“And in that moment, I knew that God was real,” Smith told the assembled audience.

He went on to thank the AAFCA and Apple TV+ for not only championing the film, but allowing them to balloon the budget, saying the studio “never flinched. It was the first time I had heard from a studio that the story was more important than how much it costs to get it done.”

Smith’s last on-stage appearance came during the 2022 Oscars where he went off-script himself, storming the stage and slapping Chris Rock across the face over a “G.I. Jane” joke directed at Jada Pinkett Smith. Jada suffers from alopecia, which Rock insisted he did not know.

“Keep my wife’s name out your f—— mouth!” Smith shouted repeatedly at Rock after returning to his seat. In a controversial decision, he was not removed and was allowed to give a speech later in the night when he won Best Actor for “King Richard.”

Smith subsequently apologized and resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The organization has since admitted it did not handle the situation particularly well. It also banned Smith from appearing at any Academy event, including the Oscars, for 10 years. He can still be nominated and win.

The “Emancipation” star did not attend the NAACP Image Awards on February 25, where he took home the award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture. That ceremony was televised on BET and Paramount+.

Instead of accepting in person, Smith took to his Instagram post to share his acceptance speech, or a social media variation of it, confirming that he was tuning in by commenting on host Queen Latifah. You can check out his response below.

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