Will Smith tried not to let
personal baggage the Slap keep him from this year’s Oscars race. But after the Academy barred the movie star from attending its glittering ceremony for the next decade after he smacked presenter Chris Rock, he ultimately failed to once again secure a Best Actor nod in what would have been back-to-back nominations. Described by Smith as a “film about freedom,” Emancipation, out December 9, is a historical epic based on the true story of Gordon, a formerly enslaved man who posed for grotesque photographs of his bare, whipped back, which strengthened the abolitionist movement in 1863. For any other actor, this kind of Oscars-y film and what looks to be a gripping performance would make them a shoo-in for a nomination — but this awards season had the specter of the slap hanging over a certain Best Actor winner’s head. Meaning: Will Smith was hard at work on his film’s press tour trying to distance himself from the consequences of that fateful event.
Ultimately, 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 awards acceptance speech since his Oscars 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 makes a video apology to Chris Rock and Questlove four months after the Oscars ceremony. (Smith first apologized in a statement days after the incident). In a video posted to his socials 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?” one inquiry reads. “I was fogged out by that point,” Smith says. “It’s all fuzzy. I’ve reached out to Chris, and the message that came back is that he’s not ready to talk. And when he is, he will reach out. So I will say to you, Chris, I apologize to you. My behavior was unacceptable, and I’m here whenever you’re ready to talk.” He goes on to apologize to Rock’s family, making special mention of the comedian’s mother and his 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 wasn’t involved and apologizes to both her and their children. Later, he apologizes to Questlove and his fans. The apology comes a week after Rock referenced the Slap in his Madison Square Garden set on July 23.
November 28, 2022: In an interview with EW, the actor expresses his regret over the fact that the Slap could very well overshadow Emancipation. “The only discomfort my heart has around that is that so many people have done spectacular work on this film,” he says. “My hope is that my team isn’t penalized at all for my actions … Everyone has done such spectacular work. I definitely lose a couple winks of sleep every night thinking that I could have potentially penalized my team, but I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that everyone gets seen in the light that they deserve.”
November 29, 2022: The psychology of the Slap comes up in his first televised interview about it on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah. Smith details what was going on in his head when he made the “horrific decision” to hit Rock. “There’s many nuances and complexities to it, you know, but at the end of the day, I just — I lost it,” Smith says through tears. “I guess what I would say, you just never know what somebody’s going through.” He tells Noah that the phrase “Hurt people hurt 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.”
“Not that that justifies my behavior at all,” Smith adds.
Smith claims to have “no independent recollection” of the incident. As to why he did it, Smith speculates that “it was a lot of things,” including the trauma he experienced while growing up. “It was the little boy watching his mother beat up his father,” he shares. “All of that bubbled up in that moment. You know, just, that’s not who I want to be. I was gone. That was a rage that had been bottled for a really 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 am absolutely humbled by this!!” he writes.
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 challenging film of his career. Smith specifically recalls a moment where a white actor spit on him in an ad lib. “It’s really difficult to transport a modern mind to that time period. It’s difficult to imagine that level of inhumanity,” Smith says. He does not mention the Slap.