Moments after an altercation between Chris Rock and Will Smith at the 94th Academy Awards, the latter won his first career Oscar. Smith was nominated for his role as Richard Williams in King Richard, a biopic about the father and tennis coach of legends Venus and Serena Williams.
Smith's Best Lead Actor win came moments after the actor approached and slapped Chris Rock on stage after the comedian made a joke about Smith's wife Jada Pinkett Smith. The actor dedicated a portion of his speech to an apology to the Academy and quoting Denzel Washington, who was seen during a break comforting Smith after the altercation.
Will Smith: "I want to apologize to the Academy and I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees -- this is a beautiful moment and I'm not crying about winning an award...it's about being able to shine light."#Oscarshttps://t.co/EViXaQY1NZ pic.twitter.com/NhyqzDtkf0— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 28, 2022
"Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family. 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 Aunjanue Ellis, who is one of the most strongest, most delicate people I've ever met," Smith said in his speech.
He added, "I got to protect Saniyya [Sidney] and Demi [Singleton], 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. 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 gotta be able to have people disrespecting you. You gotta a smile and you gotta pretend like that's okay."
That's when Smith revealed what Washington told him off-screen prior to his acceptance speech.
"Denzel said to me a few minutes ago, 'At your highest moment, be careful. 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 and the entire Williams family for entrusting me with your story. That's what I want to do," the actor added.
He concluded, "I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. 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 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 [his cast and crew] of King Richard, Venus and Serena, the entire Williams family. Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things. To my mother, a lot of this moment is really complicated for me, but to my mother ... she's in Philly watching ... my family, my wife, I'm taking up too much time. Thank you for this honor, thank you for this moment, I thank you on behalf of Richard and the entire Williams family. I hope the Academy invites me back, thank you."
King Richard is now streaming on HBO Max.