Will Smith insisted he is “being called on” to “protect” those he loves as he picked up the Best Actor Oscar.
Smith, 53, had caused a stir earlier on Sunday (Mar 27) evening when he slapped Chris Rock in response to a joke the latter made about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. He later addressed his actions as he accepted the Best Actor gong on stage at Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre in recognition of his performance as Richard Williams in King Richard.
In his acceptance speech, Smith appeared to compare the incident to Williams’ fiery spirit. He tearfully said: “Oh man. 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 was one of the strongest, most delicate people I’ve ever met. I got to protect Saniyya [Sidney] and Demi [Singleton], the two actresses who played Venus and Serena.
“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 gotta be able to take abuse, you gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you, in this business, you’ve got to be able to have people disrespecting you. You gotta smile and pretend like that’s OK.
“Thank you D — Denzel [Washington] said a couple of minutes ago, be careful, at your highest moment, that’s when the devil comes for you.
“It’s like I wanna be a vessel for love, I wanna say thank you to Venus and Serena and the entire Williams family for entrusting me with your story. That’s what I wanna do, I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern.”
Will went on to apologise for his actions, and insisted he wasn’t crying because of his win.
He said “I want to apologise to the Academy, 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. Tim and Trevor and Zac, 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.
“Love will make you do crazy things.
“To my mother, a lot of this moment is really complicated for me, but to my mother, she didn’t want to come, she has her knitting crew she’s watching with. Being able to love and care for my mother, my family, my wife thank you for this honour, thank you for this honour, thank you for this moment. I thank you on behalf of Richard, Oracene, and the entire Williams family.”
And the Men in Black actor — who beat Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog), Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick … Boom!) and Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth) — admitted he was concerned he wouldn’t be welcomed back to the Academy Awards in future.
He said: “I hope the Academy invites me back, thank you.”
Given that the Oscars is a live show seen by hundreds of millions of people around the world, a dust-up like Smith’s is every producer’s nightmare. (But perversely, it also makes for great TV entertainment or as Rock quipped after being smacked, “That was the greatest night in the history of television.”)
Should the show continue as it did? Or should the producers go for a commercial break? Call Smith a Grab and send home to chill? We shudder to think if something of this magnitude happening during our Star Awards next month? This is a teachable moment.
Catch the Oscars encore on Channel 5 tonight (Mar 28) at 6pm (red carpet) and 10.30pm (main ceremony). The shorter international version will be shown on Channel 5 on Saturday (Apr 2), 12pm. it’s also available on meWATCH.