Will Smith apologized to the Academy and his fellow best actor nominees in his winning acceptance speech, shortly after he went on stage and slapped Chris Rock for making a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith. He did not address Rock in his speech.
“I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment and I’m not crying for winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me. It’s about being able to shine a light on all of the people. Tim and Trevor and Zack and Saniyya and Demi and Aunjanue and the entire cast and crew of ‘King Richard,’ Venus and Serena, the entire Williams family. Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams,”
Smith said in his tearful acceptance speech.
Rock had earlier made a joke about Pinkett Smith being in “G.I. Jane” because of her shaved head. After smacking Rock in the face, Smith yelled at him, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!” The Oscar audience, and viewers on social media, were stunned by Smith’s slap, which appeared like a comedic skit at first. The incident took place during best documentary feature, which was a few categories before best actor. Smith addressed the slap immediately upon taking the stage to accept the award.
“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family. In this time in my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world. Making this film, I got to protect Aunjanue Ellis, who is one of the strongest, most delicate people I’ve ever met. I got to protect Saniyya and Demi, the two actresses that played Venus and Serena,” he said, as he began to tear up. “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do, you got to be able to take abuse. You got to be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business you got to be able to have people disrespecting you. And you got to smile and you got to pretend like that’s okay.”
After the incident with Rock, Smith’s publicist Meredith O. Sullivan, Oscar producer Will Packer and best actor nominee Denzel Washington came by to talk to Smith during the commercial breaks. In his speech, Smith revealed what Washington said to him. “Thank you, Dee. Denzel said a few minutes ago, ‘At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you,’” Smith said.