Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for the National Board of Review
Will Smith tried not to let
personal luggage the Slap keeps him out of this year’s Oscar race. But after the Academy banned the movie star from attending its glittering ceremony for the next decade after he punched out presenter Chris Rock, he ultimately failed to earn a Best Actor nod again. in what would have been back-to-back appointments. Described by Smith as a “movie about freedom”, Emancipationreleased on December 9, is a historical epic based on the true story of Gordon, a former slave who posed for grotesque photographs of his bare, whipped back that fueled the abolitionist movement in 1863. For Any Other Actor, This Kind Of Oscar Movie -y and what looks like a gripping performance would make it a shoo-in for a nomination – but this awards season had the specter of the slap hanging over the head of a certain Best Actor winner. Meaning: Will Smith was hard at work on his film’s press tour, trying to distance himself from the aftermath of that fateful event.
In the end, however, he and Emancipation were snubbed by the Academy. On March 1, at the African American Film Critics Association Awards, Smith gave his first in-person acceptance speech since his Oscar controversy. He made no mention of the infamous incident. Is this a sign that he’s finally ready to move on? From the first video apology to the first full account of the moment, below is everything Smith has said about the Slap so far.
July 29, 2022: Smith issues a video apology to Chris Rock and Questlove four months after the Oscars. (Smith first apologized in a statement days after the incident). In a video posted to his social media titled “It’s been a minute,” the actor answers a series of frequently asked questions about the Slap. “Why didn’t you apologize to Chris in your acceptance speech?” a survey reads. “I was steamed up at the time,” Smith says. “Everything is blurry. I contacted Chris, and the message that came back is that he’s not ready to talk. And when he is, he will stretch out his hand. So I’ll tell you, Chris, I’m sorry. My behavior was unacceptable and I’m here whenever you’re ready to talk. He goes on to apologize to Rock’s family, making a special mention of the comedian’s mother and brother Tony.
In response to a question about Jada Pinkett Smith’s involvement – a joke about her alopecia might have been what prompted Smith to do the slap – he clarifies that she was not involved and apologizes to her and their children. Later, he apologizes to Questlove and his fans. The apology comes a week after Rock referenced the Slap on his Madison Square Garden set on July 23.
November 28, 2022: In an interview with EOactor expresses regret that the Slap could very well overshadow Emancipation. “The only discomfort my heart has around this is that so many people did such a spectacular job on this movie,” he says. “I hope my team won’t be penalized at all for my actions… Everyone did such a spectacular job. I definitely lose a few winks every night thinking I could have potentially penalized my team, but I’m going to do everything I can to make sure everyone is seen in the light they deserve.
November 29, 2022: The psychology of the Slap returns in his first TV interview about it on The daily show with Trevor Noah. Smith details what was going through his head when he made the “terrible decision” to punch Rock. “There are a lot of nuances and complexities, you know, but at the end of the day, I just – I lost,” Smith says through tears. “I guess what I would say, you never know what someone is going through.” He tells Noah that the phrase “hurting people, hurting people” finally made sense to him afterward. “You just don’t know what’s going on with people,” he explains. “And I was going through something that night.”
“That doesn’t justify my behavior at all,” Smith adds.
Smith claims to have “no independent recollection” of the incident. As for why he did it, Smith speculates “it was a lot of things,” including the trauma he went through growing up. “He was the little boy who watched his mother beat his father,” he shares. “It all bubbled up at that point. You know, it’s just not who I want to be. I left. It was a rage that had been bottled up for a very long time.
February 25, 2023: Smith wins Best Actor at the NAACP Image Awards. He does not attend the ceremony to accept the award in person, but later reacts to his win on Instagram. “WOW!! NAACP!! I’m absolutely humbled by this!!” he wrote.
March 1, 2023: In his first awards acceptance speech since the 2022 Oscars, Smith accepts the Beacon Award for Emancipation at the African American Film Critics Association Awards. Smith thanks the room “for keeping our stories alive” and describes Emancipation as the most difficult film of his career. Smith specifically remembers a time when a white actor spat on him in an ad lib. “It’s really hard to convey a modern spirit in this era. It’s hard to imagine that level of inhumanity,” Smith says. He does not mention the Slap.