Will Smith is back on the awards season circuit for the first time since the 2022 Oscars, where he slapped comedian Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
The King Richard actor attended the African American Film Critics Association Awards on Wednesday, March 1, at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, where he accepted the Beacon Award alongside his Emancipation director Antoine Fuqua.
“Emancipation was the most individual difficult film of my entire career,” Smith said in his speech (via The Hollywood Reporter). “It’s really difficult to transport a modern mind to that time period. It’s difficult to imagine that, that level of inhumanity.”
The historical action thriller tells the story of Peter (Smith), a slave who flees a plantation in Louisiana and has to outwit cold-blooded hunters and the unforgiving swamps of Louisiana on a torturous journey north.
In his speech, Smith recalled how one of his white co-stars ad-libbed in a scene by spitting on him. “I was in a scene with one of the white actors, and we had our lines, and the actor decided to ad-lib. So, we’re doing the scene. I did my line. He did his line. And then he ad-libbed and spit in the middle of my chest. If I had pearls on, I definitely would’ve clutched them. I wanted to say, ‘Antoineeeeee,’ but I stopped, and I realized that Peter couldn’t have called the director.”
He said they did a second take and the actor spat on him again. “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. And then, in the distance, I hear a voice, and Antoine says, ‘Hey, let’s do a take without the spit.’ And in that moment, I knew that God was real.”
The audience reacted warmly to Smith, greeting him with applause and laughing along with his jokes. He did not make reference to last year’s Oscars or the incident with Rock.
“‘Emancipation’ was the individual most difficult film of my entire career.” Will Smith accepts the Beacon Award at the AAFCA awards ceremony. https://t.co/JI2rDIHsX8 pic.twitter.com/vR5oROfdgY
— Variety (@Variety) March 2, 2023
However, Rock himself appears to be ready to talk about the slap in his upcoming Netflix special, Chris Rock: Selective Outrage, which will stream live at 10 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 4, from the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore.
According to various publications, Rock has been workshopping jokes about the incident for his new stand-up special.
“The thing people wanna know… did it hurt? Hell yeah it hurt. He played Muhammad Ali! I played Pookie. Even in animated movies, I’m a zebra; he’s a f*****g shark. I got hit so hard, I heard ‘Summertime’ ringing in my ears,” Rock joked at a show in Charleston, South Carolina, a source told the Wall Street Journal.
At another show, the New York Post reported that he joked about “rooting for Will Smith” his whole life, but now he hate-watches the actor’s movies.
“The other day, I watched ‘Emancipation’ just so I could watch him getting whipped,” he quipped.
Smith has previously attempted to reconcile with Rock, revealing in a social media video that he’d “reached out to Chris,” but “the message that came back is he’s not ready to talk, and when he is, he will reach out.”
At his show at London’s O2 Arena, Rock responded to Smith’s message, saying, “F*** your hostage video.”
Chris Rock: Selective Outrage, Special Livestream Premiere, Saturday, March 4, 2023, 10/9c, Netflix