Smith made headlines earlier in the night for slapping Chris Rock, after the comedian made jokes about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett having a shaved head. Rock had joked that Pinkett-Smith had been in G.I. Jane because of her bald head, despite the fact the actress has spoken publicly about having a hair loss condition. Will Smith ran on stage and punched Rock in response after yelling at him to “keep my wife’s name out your f**king mouth.”
Taking to the stage to accept his honour, a visibly emotional Smith spoke about his call to protect the people he loves, just as Richard Williams had been. The actor also apologised to the Academy.
His acceptance speech went as follows:
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. I got to protect Sinai and Demi, 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.
I know, to do what we do, we got to 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 and you gotta smile and pretend like that’s OK.
Denzel said to me a few minutes ago, “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.” I want to be a vessel for love. I want to say, Thank you to Venus and Serena and the entire Williams family for trusting me with your story.
I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care. 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 lot on all the people … and the entire cast and crew of King Richard and Venus and Serena and 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.
Hoping the Academy invites me back!
Smith is only the fifth Black man to win the coveted Best Actor award. The late Sidney Poitier became the first winner in the category for Lilies of the Field in 1963. Denzel Washington won in 2002 for Training Day. Jamie Foxx won for Ray in 2004 and Forest Whitaker won for The Last King of Scotland in (2006).
The category was full of incredible talent such as Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog), Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick … Boom!) and Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth).
2021’s winner was Anthony Hopkins, who took home the prize for his role in Florian Zeller’s The Father. The win was seen as something of an upset as it was widely considered to be a given that the late Chadwick Boseman would win the trophy for his final role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The order of the proceedings was even changed so that the Best Actor category was awarded last, instead of Best Picture.
Hopkins, who served as one of the presenters at this year’s event, wasn’t even in attendance at the 2021 ceremony, and instead had delivered a recorded acceptance speech from abroad.
The 94th Oscars were hosted by Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes, marking the first time the event has had a host since 2018 after comedian Kevin Hart stepped down. Hart faced widespread backlash when old Tweets of his that were deemed offensive resurfaced in the lead up to the event. His decision to remove himself from the position prompted the Academy to experiment with going “hostless” for the first time since the awards began in 1929.
The 2022 version also marked a return to the Academy Awards traditional home of the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, after 2021’s bare-bones ceremony at Union Station in order to better follow COVID-19 health protocols.
Check out all our Oscars coverage here.