Will Smith was emotional while accepting his first Academy Award on Sunday, when he won Best Actor for his portrayal of Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena Williams, in King Richard. The win comes after the actor had a heated exchange onstage with Chris Rock, who made a G.I. Jane joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith who has alopecia.
“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family, and at this time in my life, at this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world,” Smith said.
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He continued, “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 play Venus and Serena. I’m being called on in my life to love people and protect people and be a river to my people. In order to do that, you gotta be able to take abuse— you got to be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you got to be able to have people disrespecting you and you got to smile and you got to pretend like that’s okay.”
Rock served as a presenter earlier in the evening when he made the quip, leading Smith to walk onstage and slap Rock on live TV. Smith returned to his seat, with most of the exchange being bleeped out of the live telecast.
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“Denzel said to me a few minutes ago, ‘At your highest moment, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you,’ ” Smith said in his speech, sharing what transpired during the break. “I want to be a vessel for love.”
Smith also used his allotted time to apologize, though not to Rock.
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“I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to my fellow nominees,” he said through tears. “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 like [producers] Tim [White] and Trevor [White], [screenwriter] Zach [Baylin] and Saniyya [Sidney] and Demi [Singleton], the entire cast and crew of King Richard and Venus and Serena Williams the entire Williams family.”
He added, “Art imitates life; I look like the crazy father like they said about Richard Williams But love will make you do crazy things.”
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