Winning Best Actor honors at the Academy Awards for playing Richard Williams, the father of Venus and Serena Williams in King Richard, Will Smith cried freely and gave a speech that appeared to be an extended, ad-libbed reference to having slapped and screamed profanities at presenter Chris Rock minutes earlier. “Richard Williams,” Smith said, “was a fierce defender of his family.” Smith slapped Rock for making a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head. Mrs. Smith suffers from alopecia, which causes baldness.
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 [co-star] Aunjanue Ellis, who is one of the most, strongest, most delicate people I’ve ever met. I got to protect Saniyya and Demi, the two actresses that 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. . . . Now I know that to do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse. . . . You got to be able to have people disrespecting you. You got to smile and pretend like that’s okay.
Referring to fellow Christian and fellow nominee Denzel Washington, Smith said, “Denzel said a few minutes ago, at your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.” He added, “I want to be a vessel for love. I want to say thank you to Venus and Serena.”
Smith then directly referred to the incident with Rock, saying, “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, 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.” He mentioned cast members and the crew and the Williams family. He went on to say, “Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father just like they said. . . . But love will make you do crazy things.”
Smith didn’t mention Rock.
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