Will Smith delivered an emotional acceptance speech at the Academy Awards Sunday (March 27) after winning the best actor award for his portray of Venus and Serena Williams’ dad Richard Williams in King Richard. The win came shortly after the actor stormed the stage and appeared to hit presenter Chris Rock in the face after the comedian made a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith‘s alopecia, which he seemed to apologize to the academy for in his speech.
“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” Smith said, seeming to allude to the viral moment, which viewers at home were unsure if it was scripted or an authentic reaction. He then mentioned some of his King Richard costars. “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 Aunganue Ellis, who is one of the most strongest, most delicate people I’ve ever met. I got to protect Saniyya [Sidney] and Demi [Singleton], the two actresses who play 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 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 have to be able to have people disrespecting you. And you gotta smile and pretend that’s OK,” he continued, becoming increasingly emotional, tears welling up in his eyes. “But Richard Williams … he said, ‘At your highest moment, that’s when the devil comes for you.’”
“It’s like I want to be a vessel for love. I want to say thank you to Venus and Serena Williams,” he continued as the screen suddenly cut to an image of the Oscars logo while Smith’s voice could still be heard. “I just spit. I hope they didn’t see that on TV — and the entire Williams family for entrusting me with your story. That’s what I want to do. I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern.”
Smith then delivered his mea culpa, though without mentioning Rock. “I want to apologize to the Academy, I want to apologize to my fellow nominees,” he said, continuing to tear up. “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 … Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father just like they said … just like they said about Richard Williams. Love will make you do crazy things.”
He concluded: “Thank you, I’m hoping the Academy invites me back.”
Pinkett-Smith wasn’t the only target of Rock’s jokes earlier in the evening. The comedian, who was presenting the award for best documentary feature, also made fun of Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz for being nominated the same evening, and joked about Denzel Washington having said “King Lear ain’t got nothing on me.”
After Smith appeared to hit Rock, the comedian remarked, “Will Smith just smacked the s–t out of me,” which led the actor to demand that the comedian “keep my wife’s name out of your f—ing mouth.”