Will Smith took the stage for the first time since his notorious Oscar slap of Chris Rock on Wednesday evening to accept the Beacon Award for Liberation at the AAFCA Awards.
The Beacon Award was presented to the 54-year-old actor during the 14th Annual AAFCA Awards, which were held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California.
Smith’s participation comes just hours after it was reported that Chris Rock’s new Netflix live show will address the slap.
He was joined on stage by his Emancipation director Antoine Fuqua, who revealed, ‘Emancipation was the individual most challenging film of my entire career,’ before laughing, ‘It was all outside, that is true.’
‘I remember it was the second day of shooting and it’s really difficult to transport a modern mind to that time period. It’s difficult to imagine that level of inhumanity,’ Smith said.
‘I remember it was like 110 degrees, we’re out there and I’m in a scene with one of the white actors. We had our line and the actor decided to ad-lib,’ Smith continued.
‘So we’re doing the scene and I did my line and he did his line and then he ad-libbed… spitting in the middle of my chest,’ he said, as the audience gasped.
Smith himself facetiously gasped, adding, ‘If I had pearls on, I definitely would have clutched them,’ adding he wanted to cry out to his director Fuqua but he stopped.
‘I stopped and I realized Peter couldn’t have called the director,’ Smith said, referencing his character, known as ‘Whipped Peter,’ whose famous scourged back photo was published in 1863 and revealed the horrors of slavery.
‘So I sat there, and I took a deep breath and we did Take 2, and the actor felt that the ad-lib had gone well… I do my line, he does his line, and spits in the middle of my chest again. I just held in that moment and there was a part of me that was grateful that I got to really understand,’ Smith said.
He then joked that he heard director Fuqua’s voice calling out, ‘Hey, let’s do a take without the spit,’ adding, ‘And in that moment… I knew God was real.’
Smith then addressed the audience, saying that they are people who’suffer for the art to bring these stories to the screen and convey them in a way that has emotional resonance for the telling of our stories and perhaps just a slight chance to change a heart, or to change a mind.’
He went on to thank everyone in the room, ‘for doing what you do to keep our stories alive,’ while thanking Apple as well, saying they ‘never flinched’ when the budget kept increasing.
‘It was the first time I heard from a studio, “The story is more important than how much it costs to get it done,”‘ Smith said to applause, before joking, ‘Then we added some more stuff that we wanted.’
He wrapped up his speech by adding, ‘More than anything, I want to thank my brother Antoine Fuqua. He didn’t compromise on one shot.’
‘His heart, his mind, his desire to deliver this story to all of you and the world, I was blown away by the lengths that he was willing to make me go through to deliver this film. I appreciate all of you. Peter has changed my life,’ Smith concluded.
Director Antione Fuqua also spoke on stage, beginning with the importance of the award they received.
‘The Beacon Award is intended to highlight films that are tackling challenging subjects with insight, enlightening, as well as engaging the audience,’ he said.
‘It was our hope that Emancipation, that it would be able to bring Peter’s triumphant story and unwavering faith and his deep love for his family to life,’ Fuqua added.