Will Smith had a complicated night at the 2022 Academy Awards. He won his first Oscar for his lead performance as Venus and Serena Williams’ father, Richard Williams, in King Richard. But Smith spent the bulk of his speech addressing an unscripted and unsettling moment from earlier in the night when Smith walked up on stage and slapped Chris Rock. Smith had taken offense at a joke the comedian told about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith. “Love makes you do crazy things,” he said during his speech. He said that he was defending his family and compared himself to Richard Williams.
Before presenting the Oscar for Best Documentary, Rock made several jokes about actors in the crowd. He said of Pinkett-Smith that he was looking forward to seeing her in a G.I. Jane sequel. Pinkett-Smith has openly spoken before about struggling with alopecia and was sporting a buzz cut at the Oscars. She rolled her eyes at the joke. Smith, despite initially pretending to laugh, eventually walked on the stage and hit the standup comic. “Keep my wife’s name our of your f-cking mouth,” Smith said to Rock twice.
When Smith won the Best Actor Oscar, he wept and compared himself to Richard Williams, who was often maligned in the press as an overly protective father. “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,” Smith said.
“I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people. And to be a river to my people. And I know to do what we do, you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and you’ve got be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you’ve got to be able to have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend like that’s okay.”
At that point in the speech, Denzel Washington called out to Smith. Washington had comforted Smith during a commercial break after the slap. “Denzel said to be a few minutes ago, at your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you,” Smith said. “I want to be a vessel for love.”
He went on to thanks Venus and Serena Williams, the Williams family, and the cast and crew of the film. He then began to apologize to everyone present that evening for his behavior. “I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees,” he said.
Smith then returned to the parallels between himself and the father of the tennis stars. “Just like they said, I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things,” he said.
He thanked his mother, whom he said was watching in Philadelphia with her “knitting crew,” and he thanked his wife. “I’m taking up too much time. Thank you for this honor. And thank you for this moment. Thank you,” he concluded. “I hope the Academy invites me back.”
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