Will Smith is speaking at award ceremonies again. The 54-year-old actor attended the 14th annual African American Film Critics Association Awards in Beverly Hills, California, on Wednesday night and took the podium to say a few words.
The speech marked the Oscar winner’s first in-person acceptance at an awards show since he slappedChris Rock onstage at the 2022 Academy Awards. Smith accepted the Beacon Award with Emancipation director Antoine Fuqua. His co-star, Charmaine Bingwa, and AAFCA cofounder Gil L. Robertson handed out the award. After a quick speech from Fuqua, Smith took the stage to say a few words.
“Emancipation was the most individual difficult film of my entire career,” Smith said. “It’s really difficult to transport a modern mind to that time period. It’s difficult to imagine that, that level of inhumanity.”
Smith then recalled being shockingly spat on by a white co-star while filming a scene, and how that impacted his understanding of the injustice of the slavery era. “It was the second day of shooting and 110 degrees,” he said. “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 continued, “I sat there, and I took a deep breath, and we did take two, and the actor felt that the ad-lib had gone well. So, we do take two. I do my line. He does his line and spits in the middle of my chest 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.”
“I want to thank Gil and AAFCA. I want to thank all of you in this room for doing what you do, keeping our stories alive. I want to thank Apple, because the budget was one thing. And then the budget was another thing. And then the budget was another thing. And Apple never flinched,” he continued. “It was the first time I had heard from a studio that the story was more important than how much it costs to get it done… They make iPhones. They can do it.” Smith was noticeably absent at the NAACP Image Awards, where he won the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Peter in Emancipation. He later posted a thank you on his Instagram.